As a victim of domestic violence who was not authorized to be living in the U.S., Emma was overwhelmed.
She was afraid of her husband, who had attacked and threatened her repeatedly, wielding a knife and destroying furniture in his fury, but she also held a deep-seated conviction that marriage was forever.
She had no confidence in the police, whom she’d called once during a violent outburst with no results other than a report.
She was fearful for her three children, who’d been missing school because of the violence and were in danger of being taken away, and for her cancer-stricken mother and siblings, whom her husband had threatened.
She saw no clear way out when she told a teacher at her children’s school that her husband had threatened her again, telling her he had a gun and “he would hurt me where it hurt the most.”
That one small moment of trust set Emma on a path to Casa de Paz, and ultimately to a life that she has regained control over. The teacher called police, who arrested her husband. The school paid for a hotel room for her and her children to stay in, and they referred her to a domestic-violence organization that led her to Casa de Paz. She was the second resident of the transition home.
“When I first got here, I felt like I didn’t want to get up,” recalls Emma (not her real name), a small woman with dark hair who speaks with quiet intensity. “I wanted to die. I felt like I had lost control of my life. I stayed paralyzed for weeks. I had lost myself, and it was really hard for me to have my children see me like that.”
Slowly Emma, who moved to the Cincinnati region from her native Mexico 18 years ago, began to climb out. She started taking medication to address her depression and seeing a therapist, who helped her form goals and motivation. Her children received services they needed and began to thrive within a framework of stability. Julia Figueroa-Gardner, Casa de Paz’s executive director, became like a second mother to her.
“Casa de Paz showed me love, protection, support,” Emma says. “Before, I had tried to kill myself and was thinking about it again, but they showed me love here and gave me the strength to keep going on.” Again and again, as Emma is telling her story in Spanish, she returns to the word confianza – confidence – an element that was missing during her darkest moments but has since taken root and blossomed in her.
Today Emma lives in a house with her children and her mother, but she comes back to visit Casa de Paz regularly to offer encouragement to its newest residents. She was there on a recent weekday evening, around dinner time, chatting and laughing with two other women and listening to their stories.
“I understand what they are going through, probably the worst time they are going through,” Emmas says. “But they need to open their hearts and trust the people here because if they don’t, they can’t help.”