Former abuser tells men: your pain doesn’t have to be your downfall
At eight, Darius Richardson watched as his father drowned while trying to retrieve the football he had accidentally kicked into the water.
For years it was an unaddressed trauma. And then at 21 he married – and began abusing his wife.
“She was my high school sweetheart. We lasted eight years of marriage but [when it came to our problems] I never looked at my childhood, I was blaming hers.
“One of the most difficult things about domestic violence is getting help, both for men and women. With domestic violence issues you can’t talk about the other person, what the other person did to you. You have to take 100 per cent responsibility for your actions.”
Now 53, Mr Richardson says he is a changed man largely because he walked through the doors of the Physical Abuse Centre and met Rosana Vickers and the group of men she was counselling.
The experience ultimately led to the formation of Change Ya Mind, Change Ya Life, the anti-domestic violence programme and support group he hosts every Tuesday at Heard Chapel AME Church.
“It wasn’t an easy road,” he said. “I was thinking: I’m in the church – that is supposed to make it better. But in actual fact it made it a lot worse. There was a lot more pressure to do right. And then you have all these elements around you, your triggers. If you choose to react, you put yourself in a position where you’re reacting in irresponsible ways.
“So you might be thinking, ‘As long as I don’t hit the person I’m all right.’ But if you go ahead and damage furniture or anything like that it’s still physical, you’re physically doing it. And eventually it graduates to actual bodily harm.”
The former prison officer’s wife and his eldest son bore the brunt of his anger until something an inmate said struck home.
“He heard about one incident with my son and he says, ‘If you don’t get help you’re going to end up in the cell next to me,’” said Mr Richardson who believes part of the problem was that he was jealous that his son had a father.
“I’m talking about disciplining my son in a harsh way. I could have ended up in jail. He was a teenager; he was doing what teenagers do. They were pivotal points and I said, ‘You know what, I need to get some help.’”
He went to EAP and from there to the Physical Abuse Centre, since renamed Centre Against Abuse.
“Really I was not thinking of anything else. I just didn’t want to express my anger in a negative way any more. I didn’t want to go back down that road and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that.”
His first group meeting took place on a Monday night. Mr Richardson walked in, sure that anyone there who knew him would be shocked because he was “this nice guy”.
“I started telling them my story and [they asked] what was your relationship with your family like?
“I come from a Christian home. My father was an associate pastor, he had his own construction company, my mama was singing in the choir and all that. Everything looked good.”
Rev James Neville Richardson’s drowning off Ferry Reach, St George’s as the family enjoyed a picnic on Remembrance Day 1975, set another path in motion.
“It was traumatising for everybody,” Mr Richardson said.
He felt guilty because he stood there, powerless as the events unfurled.
“I couldn’t control the situation. I couldn’t do anything about it besides stand still. As I got older, people were like, ‘You were young. You don’t remember anything.’ And I would say, ‘I can tell you how many times he came up for help, how long it took for the ambulance to come and what happened when the ambulance did come.’
“It felt like my mama [held me responsible]. I look exactly like my daddy – structure-wise, colour-wise. Everybody put pressure on me to be like him and I hated that. I didn’t want to be a minister, I was mad at God because God took my daddy. I was furious inside; angry.”
With his father gone his mother, who hadn’t worked in more than a decade, had to find a job to support herself, Mr Richardson and his two siblings. The family experienced poverty for the first time.
“We had hand me downs, we were getting free groceries …. And everything I witnessed like that I was blaming myself. But, you want to be strong for your mama, strong for your sister.”
Once it came time for high school it was his plan to attend Robert Crawford, a vocational school for boys, but he was accepted into the Berkeley Institute and his mother insisted he go there.
“My daddy was into construction. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. She forced my hand. I went to Berkeley and did nothing. I came last in every year, or second last. I did no work.”
Eventually asked to leave, he happily enrolled at Robert Crawford where, to his dismay, he was “put in the academic class”.
“In my last year they put me in motor mechanics. It was a consistent battle to be me.”
At Centre Against Abuse he discovered he had to adjust his mindset. He started the 26-week programme in April, 2004 while in the midst of divorcing his wife. It was the following January before he completed it.
“You learnt how to respect,” said Mr Richardson. “You had to watch what you said, how you said it; your body language, tone of voice. All these details and [I didn’t get it]. I’m saying, ‘What you mean?’
“It took me a lot of time.”
Having given it his all he was pleased when Ms Vickers asked if he would stay on and help.
“I really liked it. With the other men sharing and coaching and probing, it was like a whole new brotherhood. I felt loved. I felt listened to, respected.”
Equally important was that Ms Vickers heard what he had to say.
“I didn’t get that when I was young. My mama didn’t listen to me. [Ms Vickers] would listen and then point out positive things about you. I didn’t realise that I got a lot of negativity coming up.”
He and some of the men who “graduated way before” him, started a support group called Men in Motion and Mr Richardson began studying. He considers it “a blessing” that the Department of Corrections was willing to pay for courses and give him the time to take exams that certified him as an instructor in a number of areas linked to domestic violence.
Asked to join the staff at Centre Against Abuse full-time, he accepted the role of programme manager. In 2005 he remarried, and picked up the books again with a view to becoming an Emergency Medical Technician.
“In 2012 my marriage broke up and my job was made redundant,” said Mr Richardson who married for the fourth time last year having collected four children along the way.
The happiness he now has, has made him reflect on how he treated his wives in the past and how other men might where he was then.
“I hit the first one upside the head. I was kicking her and thinking I was smart because I didn’t punch her in the face. That’s wrong. It’s wrong.
“My aunt asked me if I was remorseful. I said if I had to sit down and think about all the situations I would collapse and cry for the rest of my life but I take that remorseful energy and turn it into positive. I’m a voice for change.”
He continued: “it’s not easy. Not everybody’s on your team. Not everybody’s happy when you change. People are going to try to pull you back. So with the court situation men are thinking that the system’s against them. I’m a product that the system can work for you. Watch how you handle yourself in court; the other person might not be the best communicator, you might not be the best communicator but always try to show as much respect as possible to the system, the law, policies and procedures."
His family, his counselling, his work as an EMT and dRich Creations, the carpentry business he started, keep him busy. Mr Richardson says change is possible for anyone, but many don’t believe help is out there.
"They believe that the system is against them with divorce and child visitation.
“The real deal is ‘change ya mind, change ya life’. Your pain doesn’t have to be your downfall. My tragedy turned into triumph and now it’s a calling. It happened for me so I could help many people.
“When the head of the tribe or clan changes, everything else will change.”
Change Ya Mind, Change Ya Life, a batterers’ programme and men’s support group meets Tuesdays at 5.30pm at Heard Chapel AME Church. Walk-ins are welcome. For more information telephone 333-1367. Darius Richardson’s story is featured in Unclenching Our Fists: Abusive Men on the Journey to Nonviolence, by Sara Elinoff Acker