Stopping the Chain of Abuse

Journey into Courage brought me two amazing experiences of perpetrators turned around by our performance. Journey into Courage is a theater piece, written and performed by women who are survivors of domestic violence. Our work was guided and organized by Bess O’Brien, who was then with Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury VT, where we gave our first performance. For four years in the early 1990’s we gave performances, mostly in Vermont. Then Bess made a movie of how we did it, and how it changed our lives. There are interviews with six of the women, and clips of parts of the show. Bess is now with Kingdom County Productions, where you can find the video of Journey.

The performance we gave at Castleton College in Castleton Vermont was memorable for several reasons. Bess was program chairman for a conference on “Theater and Community” and she booked us into the keynote spot on Saturday night. We had performed in theaters before, but this was the first time we had an actual stage crew, to do the setting up and run the lights and slides and music for us. I was surprised by how good it felt to be supported in that way, and I had extra energy for my performance. Normally most of our audience are survivors, and they tend to be quiet as mice. But at Castleton, we had an audience who expected theater — they laughed, they groaned in sympathy, they cheered and applauded. We discovered to our surprise that we were good theater!

In the audience were quite a few children from a camp that is an alternative to jail for juvenile offenders. We went there the day after the performance, and met with them at their usual community gathering. They asked us questions, and then they shared similar events from their own lives. The counselors said they heard some of those stories for the first time. One young man said he was at camp because he had sexually abused younger children, and now that he knew what his victims suffered he wouldn’t do it again. It was a pivotal moment — someone who might have gone on to become an abuser had been turned around.

A couple of years ago a woman who had been with me in Journey called me up to tell me a story. She’d been in the grocery store and a man came up to her and asked if she’d ever been in a movie. She said she had been in Journey into Courage. It turned out that he had been a batterer, and was doing a program to help him work on his issues. The video of Journey was part of the program and he said it had turned him around.

Sometimes, when depressive brain chemistry is trying to convince me that I’ve never done anything worthwhile, these are among the memories I call on.

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