“He was always controlling, but things really escalated when I got pregnant,” she said, shaking her head solemnly.
Sally came to Harmony House in 2005, fleeing for her life, and the life of her newborn daughter.
“At first he said he wanted this baby, and that he would take care of me…but that was just a front for everyone else. When we went home, he pushed me down a flight of stairs…he hit me across the stomach with a broom to try and make me lose the baby.
“He would lock me out of our house in the middle of the night, and I would have to walk the streets in a terrible, violent neighborhood. I would knock and knock, and when he finally decided to let me in, he forced me to sleep on the floor in the living room while he slept in the bed.”
“He tried to force me to have an abortion—he told me get rid of it, or else.”
“I asked him, Or else what? And he replied, or else you’ll never live to tell this story.”
Pausing to wipe away tears, Sally reflects on the days right before she fled:
“My abuser was a well-connected drug dealer in St. Louis. He had a lot of powerful connections—even had a friendship with some crooked police officers, so I didn’t even feel safe telling the police about my situation.”
“As soon as my daughter was born, a contract was put out on my life. I knew I needed to get out quickly.”
Sally explains how she worked at a local Lutheran church, and one day the pastor there noticed she was distraught and limping. The pastor asked what was wrong, she told her she was in danger.
“They asked how they could help, and I said I just need to get out now. I don’t care about packing my things, I just need to get out of town fast. I told her my uncle had told me about Springfield, MO being a great place to raise children, so she told me she’d make some calls for me to that area. That’s when I connected with Family Violence Center (Harmony House).”
The church bought Sally a bus ticket to Springfield, and one of Harmony House staff sent a cab to pick her up at the bus station—she was then accepted as a resident in shelter.
During her time in Harmony House, Sally took parenting and self-care classes, and had incredible help from her Case Manager in finding permanent housing, an apartment she still resides in, 13 years later.
Sally left shelter after a 6 month stay, and worked with outreach for continued education and support.
“I came back to classes at the shelter, and I could call if I needed something like furniture…they were there to help.”
Sally enrolled her daughter in OACAC for daycare, and she was able to take GED classes in the basement of a local north side church.
By 2010 she earned her GED and enrolled in classes at OTC.
“Things still weren’t easy.” she went on:
“About a year into my schooling, I had a major stroke and lost the ability to walk and talk for months. I was a single mother with no family in Springfield. Thankfully my church family stepped up and helped care from my daughter while I was in rehab.”
“By the grace of God, and from the help of some wonderful, passionate faculty at OTC, I was able to get back into school, and in 2017, I walked across the stage to receive my associates degree.”
Graduation was bittersweet for Sally–she explains that her mother was an abusive drug addict, and she never met her father. Not a single member of her family was in attendance to watch her graduate.
“I remember my mother saying, Sally, I don’t know why you are bothering to try and go to school, you’ll never amount to anything anyway.”
“As I walked across the stage, I heard someone say, Mama! Look up! and I looked up and saw my daughter waving—and that was the moment I knew everything was still okay, and that my daughter was there, I did all this for her…so she could have a better life than I did.”
Sally says that the entire OTC faculty gave her a standing ovation as she received her diploma.
Sally is currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at Drury, studying community and behavioral health. Her daughter is attending school in Springfield.
“I was sitting with my daughter yesterday, as we were riding the bus, and she says, Mom, I already have my graduation speech ready! I am going to talk about how we all dream of living in a big princess castle and having everything we want, but as we grow older, our dreams change and we just want to go to school, get educated and make a difference in the world.”
Sally smiles and sighs, tears in her eyes.
“I heard her say that, and I that was when I thought to myself, I am a chain breaker. I’ve broken so many unhealthy and traumatic family chains. My daughter will have the love that I never had from my mother, and I can now finally say, I also love myself exactly the way I am.”