Hannah Brancato

House Of Ruth Interviews, 2009-2010

As community artist-in-residence at the House Of Ruth Maryland, I interviewed domestic violence survivors and perpetrators, as well as staff and volunteers from the organization. The project documents the connections that exist between perceptions of power and the cycle of violence.  The resulting stories give voice to persons stigmatized by domestic violence, while bringing to light the diverse ways and means that these people empower themselves.

This project is a collaboration between Sharlene McNeil and Hannah Brancato, with contributions from Naomi  M., Lakiesha F., and Anita R.

3:07    :     S

“S” is a counseling psychologist who works with domestic violence survivors. She benefited from visiting a therapist to deal with her low self-esteem, a result of her father’s verbal insults. “S” describes the difference between the way that her father’s judgment affected her and her brother. She continues to struggle with her own tendency to be patronizing, and strives to be kinder and more supportive to her husband and young son.

2:56     :     R

“R” is a current member of the Gateway program, who believes that money and social capital make people influential and therefore superior. He describes the peer pressure that his group of friends puts onto one another to avoid commitment. “R” sees a connection between manipulative business practices that he and his business partner use to make money, and the mind games he plays with women. He believes that girls come and go, but his friends are there in the end.

3:10      :      Sharlene

Sharlene is the co-founder of What Gives People Power; she lived in the House Of Ruth’s transitional shelter program. Sharlene discusses her irrepressible passion for using her voice and her creativity.  Sharlene describes how her son’s father suppressed her voice and controlled her actions. As she becomes an independent woman once again, Sharlene finds that with the newfound freedom to write and express herself, she is better able to cope with daily challenges.

2:58     :        P

“P” was a client who lived in the House Of Ruth’s emergency shelter. She suffered from a physically violent relationship with her husband. For “P”, cleaning is a way to control her surroundings, a habit that she picked up from her grandmother. “P” explains the pressure that she felt to care for her siblings after her father murdered her mother, and how that weight followed her into adulthood. The interview ends as “P” describes the possibility of finding freedom in her faith and her happiness.

3:06     :    K

“K” is a graduate of Gateway, House Of Ruth’s abuser intervention program. He and his ex-wife developed an authoritarian, unhealthy relationship when they ceased to trust one another. “K” believes partnerships would be healthier if both parties took better care of themselves, preventing jealousy and suspicion.

MALENE   :    Malene
Malene is a writer and an educator who founded American Heroine Sessions, workshops designed to help others tell their life story; she taught these workshops in the emergency shelter in summer 2009. Malene describes her fierce core, and the contradictions inherent in being a woman. She says accepting the role of the victim can be tempting, but stresses that subjugated individuals must learn from their reality. Alice Walker’s writing helped her wake up to and leave her own abusive relationship.

2:53     :         John

John is the Senior Maintenance Technician at the House Of Ruth Maryland. He describes the relationship between stress and work, using himself and his father as examples. He emphasizes how hard he tries to keep work related worries separate from home. John then describes a breathing exercise that helps him find calm in anger-inducing situations.

3:03  :  Glenn

Glenn is a graduate of Gateway, the abuser intervention program at the House Of Ruth Maryland. Although he finished his 22-week obligation, Glenn returns periodically for additional counseling and support.  He has been in and out of jail for most of his life and is a recovering alcoholic. Glenn describes how incarceration creates the reality that power is about domination and fear.

2:57   :   J

“J” has worked at the House Of Ruth Maryland for about three years, and previous to her work there, she was a safer sex educator. She describes why she works with issues surrounding relationships, and the connection between her experiences and those of the clients that she serves. For “J”, inner strength and quiet are empowering. She describes how she maintains authority in parent/child power struggles by releasing control.

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