Minnesota Judicial Branch Update: COVID-19 and Changes to Court Procedure

The Minnesota Judicial Branch is discouraging the public from making any non-essential visits to court facilities during the outbreak of COVID-19. Remote proceedings are being used when possible. Information about changes to court procedures in response to COVID-19 can be read online at: Minnesota Judicial Branch: COVID-19 Information

Visit website for translations in Spanish, Somali and Hmong. There is also a link to sign up for e-mail updates.

Minnesota Judicial Branch continues to monitor the most current statements and recommendations regarding COVID-19 in Minnesota. The Branch is coordinating closely with statewide partners, including the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The Branch will be following MDH recommendations as the situation evolves.

Update, March 20, 2020:

After careful consideration and consultation, the Judicial Council has recommended further restrictions for in-person courthouse access. In response, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea has issued a statewide order, ADM20-8001 Continuing Operations of the Courts of the State of Minnesota Under a Statewide Peacetime Declaration of Emergency. The order restricts in-person access to courthouses for only designated case types, and opens up additional opportunities for remote hearings that must occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order goes into effect on Monday, March 23, 2020, and is in effect for the next 30 days or until another order is issued, whichever comes first.

We are committed to protecting the safety of all who must enter into a courthouse during this unprecedented time. The Minnesota Judicial Branch is where people access justice and defend their constitutional rights. The balancing of public health and access to justice during this time is testing our systems and procedures. The steps we announce today will help us maintain that delicate balance,” said Chief Justice Gildea.

For detailed explanations, see the order. Website includes a summary of major changes established by the order. Wesbite also includes county specific district court information. Minnesota Judicial Branch: COVID-19 Information

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Commentary: Sharing Custody During the Coronavirus | What If I Think My Child is At Risk?

“I am getting a lot of questions from my clients about coronavirus and whether a parent should be keeping if the child might be at risk of getting exposed to coronavirus. This is not legal advice but here is my best answer.

What I tell people is is that you should follow the court order and if the court order dictates a special arrangement you really have a duty to abide by it unless the child is at risk of harm or serious physical injury…

If you don’t follow the court orders and there could be consequences and they may not be great consequences...”

NOTE: This video recording is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as the rendering of legal advice. The viewing of this recording does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only formed when you have signed an engagement agreement. We cannot guarantee results. Past results do not guarantee future results. Consult with a licensed attorney for information regarding the specifics of your case.

Additional Note: FCI is posting this publicly available video as an educational resource for parents. Command the Courtroom is not affiliated with FCI in any way.

For More Information:

⏱️COMMAND THE COURTROOM LIVE! MONDAY at 6:30 p.m. MST SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION FOR THE NEXT CTC LIVE! http://bit.ly/CTCLivestreamQuestions

Wendy Hernandez is a family law attorney in Phoenix, AZ and founder of Command the Courtroom which teaches you how to handle yourself in court and achieve the best outcome when representing yourself in your divorce or child custody case.

FOLLOW Wendy: FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/commandthecou…

WEBSITE: http://www.commandthecourtroom.com

LAW FIRM WEBSITE: http://www.hernandezfirm.com 

 

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Child’s Drawing of Emotional Abuse: Sad Mom

 

It is a great source of pain that my child’s earliest impression of “mom”, of what it means to be a woman, involved witnessing the emotional abuse and degredation I suffered. My child drew this picture (above) for me, and told me that it depicts “You is sad Mom – you got called horrible names.” The lines by the eyes are tears. Note the figure has no mouth and cannot speak. 

Emotional abuse is an attempt to gain control and overpower a victim, just as physical abuse.  The only difference is that emotional abuse uses emotion and not physical force as a weapon. Emotion becomes a weapon when words, threats, body language, mind games, bullying and coercion (etc) are used to confuse, manipulate and control the victim.

Children become victims when they are used as pawns in the perpetrator’s efforts to dominate the victim, witness abuse directly and/or are abused themselves. About one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90 percent will directly witness the abuse..” (Source: Domestic abuse: Long lasting effects on women and their children)

That domestic abuse is a re-occurring behavior means that children are repeatedly exposed to incidents of violence. Each incident of abuse causes a trauma or a physical, mental and/or emotional wound. The effects of abuse cause a lifetime of damage. (Read more: Impact of Domestic Violence on Victims and the Community)

In my situation, my child was so traumatized by abuse that she would repeat the “horrible words”, saying over and over again in a singsong voice things like “stupey” (stupid), “fuckey” (fuckin) and “stupey baby” and “dad call me stupey and fuckin'”. This was heard by numerous bystanders, people either visiting my family or professionals working with my family. It was also witnessed when my child visited father in his supervised visits.

It was noted by the therapist working with my family that my child “repeated power and control themes in play”. With the male doll fighting the female. Or the female trying to run away. The child would throw the male doll in anger. Once breaking the arm off “Prince Eric” after he was slammed against the wall. Only then did my child feel safe.

Healing and recovery is only possible when the victim is safe, and no longer being harmed. It is a courageous act for a victim of abuse to leave the perpetrator and seek safety. But, too often, the system will punish the victim for escaping the abuse. This happens when lenient sentences are given for abuse related crimes. Or when a victim is criticized and held under suspicion for leaving an abusive relationship, and not believed by authorities when coming forward with allegations. And happens when victims lose custody of children to an abuser, even after they speak out, in family court.

Professionals, including those working in family court and social services, who fail to recognize domestic abuse or ignore concerns from victims, not only put the victim’s life in danger but also become an enabler for abuse to continue. And the system that is supposed to protect becomes another source of trauma, and pain.

This happened in my family court case – despite the signs of abuse, despite the child being diagnosed with PTSD consistent with abuse and/or trauma, despite overwhelming evidence of abuse, the family court and Guardian ad Litem denied any abuse occurred. After I sought to protect my children, and remove them from a home that was unsafe and volatile, the family court gave sole custody to the identified abuser and banished me from the lives of my children.

My child is right… “You is sad Mom…” has become my everyday reality dealing with the loss of my children, and witnessing the family court system decimate my family with the impact of an atom bomb. 

My own family court case of losing custody of my children to an identified perpetrator of abuse is  just one tragic example among thousands more…there are anguished parents across the U.S., and the world, who have not only been abused and tormented by a former partner but are also being re-abused by the failures, and injustices, of the legal and social service systems.

– Emily Court

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CPS Breaks The Law & Father Fights Back In Federal Court!

“Unless you’ve been targeted by Child Protection Services, you cannot even begin to imagine the feeling of pain, grief, financial loss, helplessness and depression caused by having your children removed without due process, and the nightmare involved to get out. This is happening all over the United States…” (Petition – Stop CPS From Legally Kidnapping Children)

March 2, 2020 (St Paul, Minnesota) – This video provides a brief recap of what laws CPS (Child Protection Services) broke against Dwight Mitchell and the parental association “Stop CPS From Legally Kidnapping Children”, why the federal civil rights lawsuit against CPS was filed, the upcoming Oral Argument before the 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota on March 11, 2020 at 11 AM, and the Rally planned for the same day at 9 AM in front of the Federal Court House.

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Family Preservation Foundation, Inc.

For more information please visit:

Petition – Stop Child Protection Services (CPS) From Legally Kidnapping Children!

Family Preservation Foundation

YouTube Channel: Family Preservation Foundation

Facebook: Family Preservation Foundation

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Dangerous Felon Fires Gun During Custody Exchange: WHY Was He Allowed Unsupervised Visit?

Feb 13, 2020 (West St. Paul, Minnesota) – An OUTRAGEOUS family court decision from the State of Minnesota… Ta’Quan Lee Smith has a rap sheet that includes  sellig drugs, armed robbery and giving police officers a false name. SO how was Smith able to convice a family court judge that he is deserving of custody of a child, and should have unsupervised visits? During a recent child custody exchange, Smith became angry and started shooting a gun at the car his ex-wife and child were riding in. The bullets missed the victims and instead landed in the metal roof of a nearby business, thankfully no one was hurt. 

“Police learned from the victim that she had gone to the parking lot with her new boyfriend to meet her soon-to-be ex-husband, whom she identified as Tu’Quan Lee Smith, for a child custody exchange, the complaint states.

She told police that Smith exited his vehicle and began taunting the couple. They completed the exchange of the child and then Smith flashed a gun and threatened her boyfriend. The victim and her boyfriend then left with the child in their vehicle.

The victim then realized that her child had dropped a glove in the parking lot, so they returned to the parking lot and Smith followed them in his vehicle. Once in the parking lot, Smith pointed the handgun at the victim’s vehicle and fired two shots at the front of the vehicle. The victim then fled the parking lot to get away from the scene…”

Smith has been taken into custody and is being held at the Dakota County Jail. If convicted, Smith could serve up to 7 years in prison.

But what about the sentence given to children who are court ordered into unsafe custody or visitation arrangements by family court judges? These children face a kind of incarceration where their childhood ends, and they are condemmed to be re-abused or traumatized after being placed in custody or visits with an abusive, unfit parent.

In 2017, the United Kingdom passed significant reform and changes in family court procedure to better protect victims of domestic violence, and their children, during divorce and custody cases. The changes were implemented after after the release of a report titled Nineteen Child Homicides. The report tells the stories of the cases of 19 children, all intentionally killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse. The killings happened due to unsafe child contact arrangements, formal and informal. Over half of these child contact arrangements were ordered by the family courts.

Cases of injustice and abuse in family court have been reported for over 20 years in Minnesota and also been reported to be happening by parents in every state of the U.S. and even internationally. The Smith case should be a wake up call that the family court system is in serious need of reform and without it, lives will be put at risk and children will be harmed by the very system that is support to support their “best interest”.

Read More:

Charges: Woodbury Man Fired Gun at Vehicle Containing His Child During Custody Exchange

UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers

Launch of “Nineteen Child Homicides” report and Child First campaign

 

 

 

 

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Seven Family Court Cases Examined by Daily Caller Reveal Shocking Treatment of Parents, Kids

Title: “Police Raids Being Used to Enforce Custody Orders, Sending Kids Back to Abusive Parents and ‘Reunification Camps'”

Link: POLICE RAIDS BEING USED TO ENFORCE CUSTODY ORDERS, SENDING KIDS BACK TO ABUSIVE PARENTS AND ‘REUNIFICATION CAMPS’

Published By: The Daily Caller

Reporter: Michael Volpe

Date: May 23, 2019

Description: Seven cases examined by The Daily Caller show police raids being used in custody battles, with some parents ending up incarcerated.

Experts say accusations of “parental alienation” are routinely abused. In one NC case, a mother was jailed for having her child baptized.

A pattern of cases across the country show how custody battles can escalate into police raids, which sometimes force children into abusive situations or “reunification camps” on the order of judges.

The Daily Caller took a closer look at seven, in multiple different states, which show a disturbing trend of custody cases being mishandled...”

This article includes stories of both mothers and fathers involved in family court litigation from across the United States who voice various complaints about the handling of their custody cases; and cite concerns for the safety of their children that have been ignored or dismissed by the Court and it’s professionals.

Public Domain Image: https://www.tokkoro.com

Public Domain Image: https://www.tokkoro.com

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Abused Child Knows “Hiding Places” in the Home

My child confides to a therapist threats and incidents of abuse, that he knew “hiding places in the home should father find out where they live… At the time, my two children and I were living in a homeless shelter after being forced to flee our home after the ex, Martin Hegland, assaulted me. During the incident, Martin kicked in the door to the family home, hitting my child in the face with a brass doorknob and causing a black eye.

My child bravely spoke up about abuse only to have the family court system rip him out of the arms of the safe, loving mother who tried to protect him and then award SOLE custody to the identified perpetrator of abuse, Martin. At the time of the court order, Martin was a wanted fugitive with charges of drunk and disorderly conduct in another state, where a commitment order was issued against him. He was diagnosed by the court’s own psych eval as having a “personality disorder” and being a “master manipulator”. He had a lengthy history of multiple addictions. And there were over a dozen documented allegations of child abuse, with noticeable trauma in both children that severely affected their development and ability to function.

Hennepin County Family Justice Center – Epicenter of Corruption

My family has spent over a decade involved in family court litigation, the court itself has become a site for continued abuse. Four judges of the Hennepin County family court system, psychologist Susan DeVries and Guardian ad Litem Jamie Manning will ALL dismissed, ignored or otherwise participated in the cover-up of serious child abuse allegations.

When I raised allegations of abuse and sought therapy for my children, I was pressured, threatened and told by family court officials not to talk abuse or report concerns for the safety of my children. GAL Jamie Manning told me that reporting abuse means that I am “unable to co-parent“.

I filed a complaint with supporting documentation against Jamie Manning with Laurie Kusek, 4th District GAL Program Manager. Ms. Kusek ignored the complaint in its entirety and refused to respond. I also filed a complaint against Jamie Manning with the judge then presiding on my case, Ivy Bernhardson, who defended Manning and told me that I am “too emotionally attached” to my own children to appreciate the work of Manning.

The court system followed through on their threats and I have been forcibly separated from my children, and subjected to a court order that drastically reduces my parenting time to just one visit a month. I was once a stay at home mom and primary caregiver, and through the unjust order of the family court have become a stranger in the lives of my children. All of this with no findings of abuse or maltreatment against me. I have submitted professional recommendations attesting my character to the court. I passed the psych eval. I took parenting classes…and yet the most unfit, dysfunctional parent is awarded custody without ever having to prove he is a safe parent. This is Family Court Injustice.

Diagnostic Assessment, Washburn Center for Children: ” (Child) was cooperative and separated easily from his mother, who walked with us to the office and stayed several minutes to check in.

He immediately focused on trucks play, but was responsive to this examiner’s questions and stopped playing when asked to draw pictures. Answered questions and also spontaneously provided information.

(Child) spoke quite a bit about dad and talked about getting “dinosaur spankings” and that dad would “yell like a dinosaur”.

He stated he makes threats to hurt others because his dad made similar threats. He acknowledged those threats were scary when dad made them, and is not sure why he now makes them.  He stated he would not really hurt anyone.

His speech was often pressured. He talked about knowing hiding places in the home, should his father find out where they live…

Public Domain Image: https://www.wallpaperup.com

 

 

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Child Trafficking in China – DW Documentary

A child gets sold and the police and courts cover it up. I can’t bear this! I want my child back.” – Tan Jingjing, mother

T1

Child Trafficking in China” is a brave documentary exposing the true story of a mother named Tan Jingjing whose son is kidnapped following divorce, and illegally sold on the black market for adoption. Tan Jingjing desperately fights to bring her son home while being threatened by her ex-husband and facing a system of courts, police and government authorities that are colluding in the trafficking of children.

Tan JingJing’s story is being repeated not only in the heartbreak of countless families throughout China but is a familiar story for many in America, and around the world, as well, who also feel their children have been trafficked through the CPS and family court system.

Title: Child Trafficking in China

Credits: DW (Deutsche Welle) Documentary. A Report by Mathias Bölinger.

View Online:

Part I- https://youtu.be/xRCRBRpLeUM

Part II – https://youtu.be/cBXMt8cYJYQ

Description:

Tan Jingjing from China is convinced her son was sold to traffickers by her ex-husband.

She’s been searching for him for three years; by now he would be five. She hasn’t received any help from the authorities. But there is a glimmer of hope.

Every year tens of thousands of children disappear in China; there are no official figures.

Tan Jingjing’s son went missing after her divorce. She suspects her ex-husband sold the boy – then aged 18 months. He probably ended up being adopted, and is just one of countless similar cases. Children are bought and sold in China via online forums. Even where a child has been kidnapped and sold under a false identity, corrupt officials cover up the deal as an adoption. Tan Jingjing has spent the last three years looking for her son, who would now be five.

Outskirts of Wuhan, China: Tens of thousand of children disappear in China ever year, there are no official figures. These children are often trafficked. A black market exists with a high demand for the illegal adoption of boys as there is a stronger preference for sons. Others are sold for slave labor. When the children are no longer wanted, many are thrown onto the streets like trash, homeless and begging for survival. Other children are murdered, their bodies hidden or dumped into unmarked graves. Only a small number of a children are rescued from this terrible fate. Child trafficking is illegal in China but officials rarely pursue cases of missing children, or seek prosecution of traffickers. In many cases, officials accept bribes or even participate in the trafficking of children.

When mother, Tan Jingjing, separated from her husband, their son Muchen initially stayed with his father. After the divorce was finalized, Tan Jingjing was granted sole custody of Muchen and another son, born after the separation. When Tan Jingjing went to pick Muchen up, she was met by her angry ex-husband who had hidden the boy and threatened that if she reports him to authorities he “will kidnap the boy and then you will never see him again”. Tan Jingjing feared her ex-husband sold Muchen. She says, “Since then my only purpose in life is to protect my younger son and find my older son. I’m terrified everyday.”

Despite the threats and pressure from her ex-husband, Tan Jingjing filed police reports and filed motions with the court in an attempt to bring Muchen home. Though she can’t prove it, Tan Jingjing believes that corrupt government officials are covering up the kidnapping of Muchen. She fears retaliation from government officials when searching for Muchen, that she will be labeled as a “troublesome person”. Tan Jingjing alters her appearance, dressing like an older person and having her hair cut, so she can remain undetected, traveling through villages and peering into the classrooms of elementary schools searching for her son. Police and government officials are of no help. She reports being followed an monitored. Tan Jingjing has fought the return of Muchen over 3 long, agonizing years.

In yet another court summons, Tan Jiingjing demands that the authorities return Muchen to her care. “I have custody and I haven’t seen my son in 4 years!” she cries, “You don’t do anything, you don’t uphold the law, you keep messing with me.” Tan Jingjing is driven to desperate measures in an effort to regain custody of her son.

Please watch the videos on DW for the surprising, and emotional conclusion to this story.

(Video Shared with Permission)

 

 

 

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Family Court Judge Lyris Younge Transferred After Violating Parent’s Rights

Read Full Article Here: Controversial judge transferred from Family Court after numerous parents claim due-process violations (Philly Voice)

Judge Lyris Younge, source BallotPedia

Date: July 2, 2018

Author: Brian Hickey, Philly Voice staff

Lyris Younge, a judge for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania is transferred from the family court after several parents and lawyers issued complaints against her involving due process violations and “creating judicial parental alienation“. Critics say Judge Younge ruled by intimidation, not the law. Parents claimed their children were wrongly taken, and rights violated, when Judge Younge refused to allow them to address the court or present evidence.

A case from 2016 that made headlines when Judge Younge “did everything in her power” to remove a 5 month old infant from the custody of her parents, and place the child in foster care, even though a grandparent was able to provide care, in order to compel the parents to plead guilty to alleged abuse. Judge Younge’s ruling was later reversed. In a ruling on the case, Superior Court Judge Anne E. Lazarus said, “The fact that a trial judge tells parents that unless one of them ‘cops to an admission of what happened to the child’ they are going to lose their child flies in the face of not only the [child protection laws] but of the entire body of case law with regard to best interests of the child and family reunification.” Read more on this case: Court Slams Family Judge for Holding Baby in Foster Care to Force Confession (ALM Media)

A petition was also created by concerned parents to remove Judge Younge from the bench PETITION TO REMOVE JUDGE LYRIS F. YOUNGE FROM OFFICE  

The petition reads, in part, “Within her short time on the bench, Younge has amassed more appeals then any other judge in the Philadelphia Family Court Of Common Pleas, which has resulted in 9 ruling overturns by the Superior Court.

Hundreds of families have been affected due to younge’s unsupported decisions. Younge is suppose to preserve the family unit, and ONLY place children who are not safe and in danger. Lyris Younge has made it her goal to separate families, terminate parental rights, and adopt their children out. How can we have faith in our judiciary system when the superior court acknowledges, Lyris Younge’s goal is to deteriorate the bond between parents and children…”

The decision to transfer Judge Younge out of family court resulted after she was investigated by the Judicial Conduct Board.

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True Story Surviving Abuse & Homelessness

Public Domain Image: http://www.goodfreephotos.com

I was recently invited to give a speech for a supportive program that helps homeless families with housing and resources. This is my true story of surviving domestic violence, what it is like to be homeless and enter the shelter system.. and how supportive programs make a positive difference to stabilize, and ensure better outcomes for families.

Despite the progress I made, and my efforts to keep the children safe, despite numerous letters and recommendations from the program staff and other professionals working with me (and the kids), the unjust family court in Hennepin County awarded sole custody of my two children to the identified abuser. At the time of the court order the alleged abuser had over a dozen documented reports of child abuse against him,with documented physical injuries and documented PTSD and anxiety in both children to attest to emotional injuries. The abuse continued after the Hennepin County family court took my precious children from my safe, loving home and gave sole custody to an alleged abuser. My oldest child admitted that he has almost no memories of his childhood – dissociation is a sign of severe trauma.

But this story is far from over… I will always love my children and will fight to keep them safe, and bring them home.

“Emily Court”, October 2018.

______________________

I would like to tell you a little about what my experience with homelessness and domestic violence, and how a supportive program made a positive impact on my life, and that of my children.

My children and I became homeless in 2006 due to domestic violence. In a matter of seconds we lost everything – our home, our car, our pets, our belongings-gone. I had never been on my own before and suddenly, and without any warning, I was thrown onto the streets with two traumatized children. I did not know where to go. Or to who to call for help. I had no idea what we were going to do to get through one day to the next. Despite that, being on the street was much safer than being at home.

I started out staying with family members but that was not safe because my abusive ex was stalking and harassing me. I stayed with friends for a time. And slept in the car. I would drive around all night until the kids fell asleep then pull into a parking lot. My thought was that if the kids fell asleep first, maybe they would not realize we were actually living in the car. During the day, I kept the kids busy going to free museums or parks. I also got books from a charity and then began to teach my kids the Bible and basic school subjects. It was a tough time but also an adventurous time, and in many ways, my children and I grew closer.

I remember how strange it was to enter the shelter system because I always told my kids, don’t go with strangers, and that was exactly what we were doing. We loaded up into a van with a bunch of strangers, and spent the night sleeping on a pile of blankets on the floor of a school gymnasium as part of Project Home. We were pretty lucky to be in a school building because we had access to showers. There was a cardboard divider around our sleeping area and I drew cartoons on it with marker to make it cozy for the kids.

We befriended the other families in the shelter. I remember that before bedtime, the Project Home volunteers would come in to play games or read stories to the kids. It gave the adults a little time to relax. We would share a can of powdered cappuccino, mixed with hot water, and talk. The lights were always turned out around 8 pm but we had ways of sending messages. One night the volunteers turned the lights out then caught someone talking. We all held our breath, wondering if there would be trouble. Instead, the volunteer decided to turn the lights back on for an extra 15 minutes… I remember how everyone in the room cheered. I can honestly say, the small acts of kindness meant a great deal, because we had all lost so much.

A big problem I faced was that those running the shelter were not educated about domestic violence, and how trauma affects children. Things like safety planning, legal services, therapy and advocacy services were not available. One staff member made fun of my child for sucking on a pacifier, when the truth was that my child was regressing due to abuse, and this was a sign that he desperately needed help. Another time my child was have a flashback and fell on the floor, screaming and crying, and the staff told me to just spank my child until he behaved. I knew I had to get out of the shelter but did not know where to turn.

Letter from therapist documenting abuse against my child

There were always lines at the shelter to use the phone. Every chance I got I was calling, trying to get a better place to stay. And every time it was the same answer: too expensive, get on the waiting list or the waiting list is closed. And then I got to the last page of the phone book, and found this program. It was literally my last hope. I was excited to be put on the waiting list…and I waited.

In the meanwhile, we moved to the Ramsey County family shelter, this was not an improvement by any means. The Ramsey County family shelter is run like a jail. In the shelter, everyone is treated like a problem that needs to be fixed – our needs and humanity don’t matter. My kids needed so much help. My child’s condition worsened and he had to be hospitalized due to severe trauma and PTSD. The abuser sought sole custody of both children so I was in and out of family court. I really needed someone to talk to, but there was no one. My family was in crisis, and I felt totally alone. The breaking point came when I had to go to family court, and had to pay $50 for daycare while I attended a hearing. The $50 came out of the shelter told me to escrow. But I also needed to be in court, and I had no other way to pay for daycare. I tried to explain my situation to staff, and show receipts and court papers, but it did not matter. I violated the rules, and now we were being kicked out of the Ramsey County family shelter. I packed up my kids in temperatures nearing 100 and dreaded the thought of sleeping in our car. When I shut the back door, it did not close all the way. The car door was broken, and now unsafe for my kids to be in, it could swing open at any time. Could things get any worse?

I was lucky to find a domestic violence shelter with space to take my family. Then one day I got an unexpected call…a program had an opening. I was so excited! My brother let me borrow his car and we drove into yet another unknown. I remember how my kids and I sang to the radio really loud, on the way. We rolled down all the windows, and let our joy be heard.

This is what it felt like to be accepted into the program: the excitement of Christmas. The shelter system wasn’t perfect but we had a roof over our heads, food to eat and were safe. That being said, we also missed out on a lot of what most people take for granted. Such as having a real bathtub, to fill up with bubbles and let my kids splash inside. The program offered housing with a kitchen – our own stove, fridge and cabinets. We had been living out of bags for so long, I almost forgot what it was to have a real kitchen! Our first meal was traditional, from recipes that were passed down in my family for generations: BBQ ribs, cornbread, green beans and rice casserole. My kids stood on boxes at the counter, and helped me cook…and we made new memories over the scars of the old.

It made me think of my great-grandmother, Big Momma, who worked as a sharecropper since she was a small child, working the plantations our ancestors tended for generations. All her life, Big Momma went from place to place, never having a real home. Despite the challenges, Big Momma managed to buy a real house in the city, keeping her children out of the fields and getting them into school. I went from place to place too. Now I had a real home, and was giving my children a better life. And now my children were sharing a meal that had come from her table, it was amazing.

The program also provided what we needed most – support and understanding. We were assigned a family advocate who helped make a plan to rebuild our life. There were also regular family activities and holiday parties. It meant so much to be part of those activities because it made me feel human again, not just like I was struggling to survive. It was amazing to see my kids laugh again, to see them grow, and watch the healing begin.

After 18 months in the program my family finally secured permanent housing. I had grown much stronger and was now inspired to volunteer in my community. I wanted to give back because so much had been given to my family. I also began taking photography and writing poetry to give voice to victims of domestic violence, and those who had been homeless. To this day, my family visits the program, and helps to volunteer at events.

What has the program meant for my family? SO many things – but the most important thing I have learned is that every one of us has an incredible potential to make a positive difference in the life of someone else. And that gift of love that you offer can and will change a life.

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