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A Legacy of Hope

Catherine is the founder of Stop Trafficking ME, which she established to mobilize the people of Maine to stop the sexual abuse and exploitation of children

As 75-90% of young people who come into contact with the Juvenile Justice System have experienced some degree of trauma, there is a significant need for trauma informed care. ‘The most humane and effective response to a person who has experienced trauma entering the justice system is one of treatment and support.' Justice Policy Institute, Healing Invisible Wounds: Why investing in Trauma-Informed Care For Children Makes Sense, July 2010


After my meeting with Willa, the outreach worker for troubled teens up north, I cried for a full hour drive all the way home. Then I went to bed. Considering the great need of the girls she works with, and knowing how many more girls out there who are victims and survivors of sexual abuse, I imagined I was standing on the Pitcher’s mound in Fenway Park in Boston with a gallon of water…with 30,000 surrounding me dying of thirst. I had just ONE gallon of life saving water… even if I gave out one drop to each it would not be enough and no one would be saved. Everyone…everyone…. would die.

As a survivor of decades of sexual abuse myself, that level of hopelessness was not unfamiliar to me.

It was my doctor who suggested I meet with Willa. The time just before turning 50 for women is a journey… a well worn path tread by millions before me… so well worn in fact that my private emotional roller coaster of sweaty sleepless nights, burst of emotions, and longing for some sort of worthy legacy were all reported back to me with complete clarity and kindness by my doctor who explained it all to me. So much for being unique. She told me that she shared my heartbreak for women traumatized by sexual abuse. She found from her own advocacy that the only way to make a significant impact was to reach child survivors.

Before I met with Willa I had reached out to the local juvenile detention center but for various reasons my interview had been delayed a few times… good thing. I was in no mood to sign up for being the babe with a gallon of water in Fenway…

I wondered what good I could be? I didn't even like teenagers! I didn't get to be one myself and the ones I knew were awful, cruel, entitled horrible beings that I could never relate to. From the age of 12-17 I lived on the street, ate out of dumpsters, traded myself for protection, shelter and food. At 15 I was a prostitute. At 17 I had escaped, went home just in time to be with Dad when he got his cancer diagnosis…3 months later he died in Maine…3 months after that I was pregnant, then married living on a farm in real Kansas and embarking on what would be decades of PSTD and a menagerie of therapies all in a tenacious effort to “survive my surviving” I made my way out of the dark forest in life… I had to “get up” to zero and learn how to be a healthy functioning human being. I didn't want to go back… but…

But maybe I could show others that it is possible to escape… to find the way home back into yourself…to be happy… to be free from depression, anxiety, panic, PTSD…my way is only one way but maybe I could share what worked for me… maybe I could be of service this way. Maybe this will be what I leave in my wake….as my legacy… I will leave a legacy of HOPE.

I went to an adult half way house first. Hard cement. I think I gave them hope but the doctor was right… less odds… had to make a significant difference.

So I was willing to walk in the door of jury and check it out. No commitments. Just willing to go and talk to admin, get a tour… consciously opening my heart to being guided to where I am to go. Trusting my inner guidance and asking for “dummy proof signs”.

The first interview was with the two volunteer coordinators and a couple of other people who all wanted to know “my story” which I shared honest and openly. They asked me to come back because they wanted others to hear my story too. What I didn't expect, that was really cool…was how affected the staff was to my story. What I hadn't thought about… but as I write this I am nearly 3 years into this work and now I totally get it… was how much the staff needed to hear/see a happy ending…they needed hope that their efforts weren't lost in some sort of black hole but rather it mattered….they mattered. There is hope.

My first walk through the labyrinth of locked doors and hallways to the girls unit was stressful. I feared I would freak out because I couldn't easily get back out if I wanted to… stand at a door, press a button…wait…wait…wait… BUZZZZ!!!! Open the door… it shuts and locks with a loud clank! Each door, every time. Hand sweating on the “man down” thing that looks to close to a garage door opener for any comfort. Trying not to squeeze to hard and accidentally set it off or to loose and drop it. I hear the same story every time I pick up my “man down” on my way inside…

The over worked guard was alone, and faced with a mentally ill prisoner. She asked the guard, “Do you know what it sounds like to hear blood leaving the body? You are about to find out.” Then she reached for a wooden shelf… the guard moved her hand to press her ‘man down’… the prisoner laughed, knowing the facility was understaffed, and reminded her there were only so many Correction Officers and where they were right then….and how long it will take for help to get to her…and what she was going to do before they arrived…

That was almost 3 years ago. The guard is now a prisoner in her own house. Too traumatized after the beating to leave her house. Workman comp, therapy and a lot of meds has kept her from killing herself but that’s about it. She's alive, but doesn't want to be.

I think about her every time.

My perspective on juvenile detention (jail) is my own. I never talk about it with anyone. I just sit with what I see… all of it. The good far out weighs the bad and I don't want anyone to get into trouble or give anyone the wrong impression. All things considered it’s still far beyond any alternative we have to offer right now…or any time soon.

I go at least once a week, Thursdays from 2:30-5-5:30pm meeting with a half dozen or more girls that were hand picked for my group. I’m currently working with the third group of girls since I started. I don't have a single success story to share. I do have a lot of stories and incredible small aha moments that I cling to.

I go in with the firm belief that every girl will absolutely make it. I pour everything into that one group. When I walk out side to my car… I let go of all expectation … expectation that will fail…expectation that they will thrive… I let it all go.

Their path is none of my business. My calling is to show up and be a vessel of service…a messenger of hope through stories of experiences and tools…That’s my business.

Each week I go in side and have no idea what our 2.5 - 3 hour block of time together is going to be like…

Once one of our girls had escaped from the people taking her to court and she was hiding in the woods. My girls were so freaked out that we spent most of our time together practicing guided meditation and breathing as a response to high stress & anxiety… verses being on the outs and drinking/drugging/violence/drama.

Another time the girls were freaked out about their bodies so I brought in a bunch of non glass hand mirrors and we practiced looking at ourselves in the mirror saying…”I want to want to accept, forgive and love you”

Another time we practiced one to one silently looking into another eyes for 60 seconds.

We have gone through a few books like John Welwood’s Imperfect love, Michael Singer’s Untethered soul (my fav) and currently Brene’ Brown’s Rising Strong.

The girls LOVE it when I read children stories to them, some cant remember ever being read to as children.

They honor me by using my stories as goal scripts for the theatre group volunteer organization “Inside Out”…. as plays they want to write and act out.

They honor me by letting me into their pandora’s box of secrets. One girl had been locked up for 3 years and no one had ever seen her cry… after time in my group she opened up and shared about being raped and cried. She cried a lot that week and made some huge advances in her own growth and healing.

I love these girls. And I am honored to plant seeds of possibly … “if I can make it so can you”. I love having them write gratitude journals before they go to sleep. To write out with their dominant hand questions about stuff they feel stuck or confused about and respond by writing free flow answers with their non dominant hand.

I love opening their minds with perception widening questions like, “What else could this mean?”

I think one of the girls favorite skill/tool is from Byron Katie “There is someone’s business, Gods business and MY business” and which is which. They girls will say to me… “What would Catherine say? Its none of my business??” Lol! Love it!

My goal for the girls is for them to have hope. For them to understand that everything they chase outside of themselves…peace, except, acceptance, forgiveness, love…can only be found one place….inside of themselves. They have 100% assess and its 100% free. If they can get that and practice it… grow it….in there (jail)… then they will thrive on the outs.

I tell them I believe in them. That there are no accidents in life and we were meant to be in this group together. And that I KNOW they are going to overcome because their past is not their future… It wasn't mine…and it wont be theirs.

I see the girls tomorrow… I think I will bring and read the story “I love you THIS much”… unless they need something else…


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