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In honor of her mother, Inga Coffee: Ashley Jones

1/16
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Laura Webb

 Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project? 

 

“I want my smile back.”

 

There’s a beauty in the Project. And there’s a beauty in the victims, the people who have lost loved ones, speaking about their experience. But there’s a beauty in the smile that shows that life can be successful and triumph after tragedy happens. When I saw those smiles on those women, it just spoke to my heart. And I was like, “That’s what it’s supposed to be about.” Victims shouldn’t be the ones that are ashamed of what happened to them. The people that need to be ashamed are the abusers and the system that supports the abusers and the people who don’t support the victims throughout their journey to escape such abuse whether it’s financial abuse, the abuse through the court system, the not having housing, not being able to qualify for financial aid or being able to go to college. There’s just so many steps that victims have to have on their journey to recovery, that when I saw this I was like, “We need to let people know that there’s no reason for victims to be ashamed of what happened to them. They didn’t cause it.” The people who need to be carrying the shame are the people who caused the abuse. I saw those smiles and I was like, “I want my smile back.” For me, it was about 18 months after being run over by that truck ‘til I really ever laughed; before I got my smile back. It was really difficult to experience the emotion of happiness or joy anymore, that for a while had been taken from me through what had happened.

 

 

 

Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did it have on you? 

 

“I still face stereotypes that seem to be very archaic, like why don’t women get out why did they stay. I don’t think people understand that each situation is unique.”

 

It’s a yes and a no. I was able to share it with my family and they’re very supportive. Limited in where I share it at work for many factors. Limited if I share it in the work that I’ve done through legislation because there’s a certain dynamic – there’s certain limitations on time frames, also I have to be really conscious of - some people aren’t comfortable with the topic. So it’s a yes and a no. I’ve been able to share parts of the story with my family. I’ve been able to share the entire story with my friends. But, in public, it’s limited depending on my audience and sometimes what the audience wants to hear.

 

My friends and family and coworkers were extremely supportive. The first time I ever spoke, there was a victim of another crime in the audience and she blamed me because I chose my own perpetrator. And I’m often haunted by the fact that I didn’t have the skills at the time to comfort her because she had been sexually assaulted. She had called in sick that day and had been sexually assaulted in her apartment. And I wish I had the skills to say to her and to comfort her more that it wasn’t her fault. People should be allowed to call in sick from work and be safe in their own home. Depending on the audience and who’s in the audience, what their responses have been, some of them have been very supportive but others at times have blamed me for what happened and why didn’t I get out sooner or what did I do to cause that. So I still face stereotypes that seem to be very archaic, like why don’t women get out why did they stay. I don’t think people understand that each situation is unique. If it had been me I would’ve gotten out. And those have been the most, at times, they’ve been another type of abuse to a degree and I don’t think those people mean it intentionally, however, sometimes it brings things back that it adds onto. Well, I’ve already been through this. For me, I’ve already blamed myself numerous times in the beginning after the incident had happened. So, that’s been the hardest part – is when people still have that lack of awareness of the fact that it’s only the abuser that’s to blame and not the victim. But yet even some victims treat victims poorly. And that’s been really disappointing to have to encounter.

 

I want my smile back [laughs, big smile]. I’m ready to celebrate life again. It’s been 4 years. It’s over. By God’s grace, I’m able to enjoy my family and my job again. I’m able to feel connected with them. For a while there was a disconnect for me emotionally between my family and my friends and even the people with whom I work. For me I feel like the door has come open and I’m able to step out in the light. It’s almost like Cinderella gets to go to the ballroom with her prince. So I’m really excited about this [big smile].

 

 

 

What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?

 

“I thought I did what I could to avoid marrying someone who would be an abuser. He worked for the federal government as a law enforcement agent. There had been background checks…”

 

Well first off, I thought I did what I could to avoid marrying someone who would be an abuser. He worked for the federal government as a law enforcement agent. There had been background checks every five years on him in his career that obviously you can’t be arrested for domestic abuse and found guilty or they can’t have a gun, then that means they can’t have a job because of the Lautenberg Amendment.

 

[Deep sigh] when we dated, he opened the car doors, he brought the roses, he seemed very ideal. Most of our hobbies were in common and he seemed personable and we got along well. But there was one point in juncture where we had met with his ex-wife at a birthday function for one of his children and something in my gut said, “This is messed up and I need to get out of this relationship.” I didn’t say anything to him, I was just trying to get out of that evening and though I’m done, I’m not ever dating this person again. And by the end of the evening, I don’t know if he had some kind of sixth sense; he did all the things right in having a discussion with his ex-wife and then he proposed to me to marry me, which that was a complete 180. Then he proposed to me again a month later. And then we got married. Before we got married, my sister had told me, she said, “There’s just something about him that I think he’s controlling.” I don’t know how she read it, based off just what little information that I’m sharing, but that’s basically how it went. She said, “There’s something controlling about him.” And I was like [shakes head and shrugs], “No, no, no.”

 

We went ahead and we got married and it was within the first month where he told me he wanted a divorce. And then he began to flip flop with my emotions. It was as long as I did what he said, then he was happy to be with me. But if I disagreed with him, then there was a threat he was going to divorce me. And then he would disappear on weekends and I didn’t know where he was. And so, I was very afraid of being abandoned. And he took advantage of that.

 

“…he would hit walls and he would throw things at me like a cell phone and always feign, ‘It accidentally slipped.’”

 

He decided he wanted to be in charge of the finances, so I was put on a $25 a week allowance even though I have a college degree job and he had a job as a federal agent, which made quite a hefty sum for the state in which we lived. And so for a year, I went on a $25 a week allowance. I was rather petite when we got married and gained a few pounds and he told me that I needed less Big Macs and more Subway. And then it was, when we were on a cruise ship, that he head butted me, so that was the first incident of physical abuse. So I went to the cruise ship police and reported it. His children were with us on the cruise ship in the same room. And the cruise ship…I’m really proud of the cruise ship because they said, “We can get you a different room and you don’t have to stay with him on this trip and you’ll be safe.” And I said, “Well, I don’t wanna draw too much attention to the problems with his children here.” And so, they said, “Well, here’s what we want you to do. You stay out of the room as much as possible. You stay over by one of our uniformed officers and we’ll keep an eye on you. We’re gonna spread your picture throughout our military and you stay near them to keep safe.” Well, I told him what I had done and looking back at it – hindsight’s 20/20 – I can see that he was angry about that report. But since the report was on open waters, there’s not really legal jurisdiction. He was safe at his job. And then at that point, he would hit walls and he would throw things at me like a cell phone and always feign, “It accidentally slipped.” His biggest thing though was that he would curse me and call me names. The emotional abuse was pretty serious. There were rages that would last for hours on end. The first 6 months, I found myself behaving in ways that weren’t typically me to defend myself or for lack of better terms, defend myself back. And then I realized that wasn’t getting either of us anywhere, that somebody had to not react. After that, we wound up going to marriage counseling where he pretty much tried to snow over the marriage counselor. And when the marriage counselor asked him one pointed question, he literally got up and ran down the street away from the marriage counselor. So, that ended the marriage counseling ‘cause he wouldn’t go back.

 

We went a few years later and he was really angry ‘cause I didn’t want to go watch a football game for his youngest son and I didn’t feel well. So he had a rage that was about 12 hours long that day. And he had been drinking as well, but drinking doesn’t cause people to abuse people. You know? It’s already in there. And so we went to get something to eat and he backhanded me in the car after he had been calling my family members a name; he called my mother a whore. And at that point I waved – I saw some people in a car behind me – to call the police. After he backhanded me. And they called the police. So at this point in juncture, he was up for charges. And I hadn’t been drinking at all so the police let me drive the car home. So, I go home. I’m never told when he’s released from jail. I change the locks on the house and then I left. Then he calls and then all of a sudden he wants to work on the marriage and he’s gonna go to anger counseling and all this. Well all this was really for his job; it wasn’t for himself. It wasn’t to get better. This was so he could play the game to keep his job. And I’m pretty fundamental; I didn’t want a divorce, I wanted to stay married – “‘til death do you part.” I just didn’t realize it was going to wind up being my death at his hands or his feet, so to speak, that would cause the marriage to end.

 

He went months with paid leave and went to an anger management counselor on his own. And so I would call and check on him each day and he sounded just fine. Well it wasn’t until years later that he told me, he said, “I was steadily drinking whiskey everyday while you were gone.” But yet he was able to pretend and sound so sober and sound so with it. And you know, I’m thinking, “Well he’s dealing with this well.” But he wasn’t. It’s almost as if he had this other life he lived and then another front that he presented to me. I wasn’t investigating because why should you have to investigate somebody that you’re with in a relationship? And so as time went on, he decided he didn’t wanna be married anymore and he left me to walk home about an hour from where we lived and he took my phone. And he took my wallet and he called my sister. And she lived 12 hours away. And said “I left your sister” and he had started – and it took me a long time to realize this – he had already started undermining me as a person with his coworkers by saying I was a drunk, I was a pill popper. I would stalk him. And all these things were true about him with his ex-wife and other relationships that he had. ‘Cause one warning sign that I really should’ve looked at when we dated, was there were 2-3 women calling him and he would say, “They’re alcoholics, they won’t stop stalking me. I can’t get rid of them.” It was always everybody else was the problem. Never him. And so, he left me to walk home, my sister called; they were able to get me a taxi. I got home and at that point I filed for separate maintenance in our marriage. His attorney said, “Who’s her attorney?” And when he was told, he said, “Your wife’s now one upped you. She has a better attorney.” I think what was happening, and I still can’t prove it, is that he was busy hiding money while we were married. And the lawyer, by God’s grace, was one of the bets financial divorce attorneys going that could find money that people were hiding places. So he came back after 10 days separation and he was back for 4 months and then he left again for no reason – four months after he left me to walk home. And we were separated for a year. We had a covenant marriage and only 4 states have them. And so he really had no grounds to divorce me. So he was kind of literally stuck with me in the marriage world and of course, I was on his insurance. So, for me to give it time helped me with insurance bills. But a long story short, he came home and things were very much a honeymoon period. Things were more of a honeymoon period than when we originally got married. But it didn’t take about 4 months that the rages started again, the name calling started again, he never in our marriage liked for me to be around my family at all. I have an identical twin sister and there was a time that my twin sister and her husband and he and I went to the beach and he got mad and left us for 4 hours and had taken off with the only vehicle we had. And he was angry that we were able to go and get another car and he walked out and traipsed out my sister up one end and down the other in front of her husband. And there was no stopping him. People talk about, you know there are pit bulls and cobras in domestic abuse situations and he was very much a cobra. He didn’t fit the stereotype of pit-bull, but I guess he’s kind of a combination of both to some degrees.

 

What happened was that, the last incident, was that we had gone on a weekend getaway to a state park and he had threatened me with divorce so many times over the ten years we had been married, and the marriage counselor I had continued to see, and he told me, he said, “Your husband will never divorce you.” He goes, “You will be the one to divorce him. He just uses this as an emotional club to keep you in line in the marriage ‘cause he knows you don’t want a divorce.” Plus financially, things were gonna change for me if there was a divorce. My whole lifestyle was gonna change. He said he knows he’s got that power and he was utilizing that. So we went for a weekend getaway. And I finally just told him when we return that…he allowed his stepsons, he allowed both his children, to be emotionally abusive to me and verbally abusive to me. And I told him when we return that I was not gonna take abuse from the three of them. And so on that day he got mad and I guess he just stayed mad. Because when I look back…this is backtracking, when we initially married, he immediately filed for full custody with his ex-wife and they went into a custody, for lack of better terminology, battle when there really wasn’t a need to. It was just a matter of, let’s just even out the time with the kids and where they are and get a better schedule for them. But we had to go for psychological counseling. And with the psychological counseling, the evaluator said, talking about my husband, “He hates women.” And when she writes down he hates women, I knew I was doomed because that can’t be changed in someone. If someone’s a misogynist, it’s game over.

 

“…April 27 of 2012, he ran over me with a truck. And then he ran into a tree, and then he backed over me with the truck and he drove back over me with the truck and then he just left me there.”

 

The night of…going back to April 27 of 2012, he ran over me with a truck. And then he ran into a tree, and then he backed over me with the truck and he drove back over me with the truck and then he just left me there. And I was alone on the top of Mount Magazine State Park, which was the highest point in Arkansas and there was nobody. And I was just alone and helpless and fortunately there was a cabin near by and I looked and there was a wisp of a woman’s hair and I thought, “If I can get to that cabin, they can help me.” I had been a runner, I was very athletic, I was very physically fit and by God’s grace I was able to get there. The bystanders there were afraid I was gonna die and rightfully so, taped on their cell phones – they asked me questions like, “Who did this? What happened? What does he drive? What’s his truck?” So bystanders make a huge difference.

 

All throughout the day and through our marriage, I had learned little tricks like open up the windows or open up the doors. He was raging mad all day, and having large cursing fits all day and threatening to divorce me all day that I had all the windows in the cabin open and the doors open so that people could hear him. And sure enough, one cabin south of us and then the cabin next to us had even called the state park police to report there was a man yelling at a woman and they were concerned for her safety. So bystanders made a huge impact. So that’s how that day went. That’s the incident that did it and then when I came to in the ICU room, my family was there. I’m so thankful that I have a family that’s so supportive. We were able to get a hold of my divorce attorney on the weekend and file for divorce while my husband was still being held in jail. I’m appreciative that the bail was set extremely high for him for our state. However his coworkers, other law enforcement agents, rounded up the money and went and bailed him out of jail. So then I found myself not only facing dealing with him…at their job they have access to what’s called the power of administrative subpoena, which means they don’t have to get a subpoena from a judge in order to run people’s texts, or bank accounts or any private information. And so my husband was always able to track me, whether I was trying to save money in case that marriage ever ended, to have money to live off of for a month or two months or three months. There was no way for me to protect myself from him because he had access to that power of administrative subpoena. So, I couldn’t hide my cellphone, I couldn’t hide my texts, couldn’t hide who I talked to, what communication was going on.

 

When he was released from jail, there was a protective order on him and he immediately broke into the home even though he wasn’t supposed to be there. You know, even to this day we wonder, because he was able to set up cameras and bugs…there was so much information. My lawyer was like, “How is all this information coming out?” And we didn’t even share it. So one of the first things we did when the divorce was final was to get rid of that home. I sold it and got out of there because he just had too many people and too many resources at his hands; too many resources at his disposal that it was almost impossible to get away from him. And even still to this day…people started to come forward to me who had been investigated by him. And one of them had said, “You know, he waited three years ‘til he came after us for a really small petty crime.” And they were postal boys and he waited a couple of years because they had bet on super bowl squares. And it’s illegal to gamble on postal property [chuckles]. So he waited three years to come after these people and cost them their jobs. And then, he then stalks them at their jobs to make sure they didn’t have any guns, ‘cause they weren’t supposed to have any. And so if he’s gonna do that with postal employees, then the question for me is, what’s he gonna do with me?  So I know I’m never gonna be completely out of the woods. I know I’m always gonna have to be cautious, I always know I’m gonna have to keep a look out. But at least it’s given me more insight to him. And then he just started to use the legal system, and especially his divorce attorney to keep a covert and passive aggressive ways of abuse, such as suing me for alimony because after he lost his job, he blamed me for the loss of his job. And then he refused to go get a job and then sued me for alimony on top of the fact that he left me for dead. And basically, I’m rebuilt with 5 titanium plates and 32 screws and I had what’s called a flail chest and my lung was punctured and filling up with fluid. Had the doctor not known of this kind of innovative surgery in another state, then I wouldn’t be here.

 

“…while I was in the hospital, he hired a private I to try to find me. And so if any victim ever gets into the hospital, they need to immediately say to the hospital, ‘Put me under a code that denies that I’m here.’”

 

And while I was in the hospital, he hired a private I to try to find me. And so if any victim ever gets into the hospital, they need to immediately say to the hospital, “Put me under a code that denies that I’m here.” And it would be really great if newspapers did not release the hospitals where victims were taken, because abusers and/or their support system, because abusers have their support system, will seek out to harm, to annihilate…they are out to annihilate, destroy, kill, whatever they have to do to their victim. So those would be the biggest factors that I experienced through all this.        

 

 

 

What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result? 

 

“It’s almost as if lava from a volcano had come across me and now there’s the most beautiful flower starting to blossom…”

 

There’s still some parts that linger. But I’m at like a 95% non-lingering part [laughs]. I no longer think there’s any chance it was an accident. I no longer question that he was an abuser. What no longer lingers is the shame. By God’s grace, the shame is gone. The shame is horrible. The helpless feeling no longer lingers. The fact that I’m able to go on with my job and like I said earlier, be connected and love people.

 

Well for me, especially being here for this shoot, it’s over. It’s over. It happened. It was a small few pages in the chapter of my lifespan. What’s opened up for me is to be able to reach out to more people and get them to realize that they need to trust their gut. And if something’s not right, to go with that. And don’t doubt themselves. And I don’t care if it’s in a dating relationship, but if even with their job. We have an intuition. We have a self-protective system in us. It’s good for us to listen to those.

 

But the no longer lingers…there’s still some pissed parts but for the most part, I don’t blame myself for it anymore. I don’t blame myself for what he did. And I don’t look back and say well I should’ve left earlier, I should’ve left this. What I look at now is it should’ve never happened period. Regardless of all the other abuse that happened, it still shouldn’t come down to, “I’m going to murder you with a truck and leave you there.” Or “I’m gonna murder you with a gun.” It shouldn’t come down to that. That helps.

 

Because of the trauma, I was emotionally disconnected from immediate family and friends. And I really didn’t reach out like I had before the incident. And say to them, “How are you doing? What’s going on in your life?” And now there’s that connect again where I can have empathy and compassion with my friends and family that had been missing for 3 and half to 4 years. So that’s regrown you know? I see that part coming back and blossoming again. It’s almost as if lava from a volcano had come across me and now there’s the most beautiful flower starting to blossom back out and it’s a different type of flower but it’s a flower I appreciate. And so finding the new me has been exciting [big smile] but it is so good to be able, even on a Friday night, to sit and watch some home movie with my mom or we watched a high school basketball game the other day together and just laughed and had so much fun. And it’s good to be interested in activities again. It’s good to be interested in my family again. And it’s good to reach out and be able to help others. Like helping to carry their coat or whatever. Those were things that I had not done for the longest. I was so wounded that I just stayed here [tightens up her torso into a ball].  I’m so glad now because that’s not a personality that I had before to be able to open up and help other people and connect with other people and hear their stories. I love hearing other people’s stories and celebrate their successes and to be able to cry with their sorrows. So that, I’m glad is back again.

 

 

 

What is your definition of love and how does that love feel? 

 

“It feels good to be able to love people again [big smile with tears in her eyes].”

 

I think my definition of love is we should be conduits for what Christ’s love was for everybody. And even on the airplane ride here, I saw people from different countries in their different dress and I thought, “You know, all of us are so loved and valued by the Lord or by anybody’s god whomever that may be and precious we all were and we all were made for a reason and so, you know, love can be wanting the best for other people, wanting to serve other people. And then there can be romantic love. So there’s just different types of love that come into it but overall, just to be kind to somebody and compassionate and to encourage other people. That’s kinda what love means to me these days. It feels good to be able to love people again [big smile with tears in her eyes]. It feels good that it’s not distant. It feels good that the warmth is back. I mean intellectually for about 4 years, I knew what love was. You’re supposed to be there.  So I can see how people can mimic it but to feel it and to really mean it and to want what’s best for other people, and to help other people and help mankind and just to love everybody, there’s different ways. It’s so fun to be able to experience that part of my heart again and to have it back.

 

 

 

What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you? 

 

“…life can pick up on and you can go out and help other people.“

 

First off, intimate partner violence can be stopped. I think we need to educate our youth most of all. Trail of Existence as far as my story, would be that I was blessed enough that the journey took me through some work through the legislator to help empower other victims of domestic violence. The Trail of Existence would be, it doesn’t matter what race, what economic status, what sex, what type of relationship people are in, intimate partner violence occurs. We…men and women, young people, are the only ones that can get it stopped. Too, often times it’s passed on from generation to generation. I love my dad, but there could be moments where he could go on tirades, so for me to tolerate tirades, it was kinda like well, I know how to tune this off and go on. So, for me to leave a Trail of Existence, fortunately, like in our state, we were able to mandate teen dating violence awareness and signs, which 47 other states had already passed. At least we got that to happen. But the Trail of existence is it could just happen to anybody. I could happen no matter what career status they’re in or non-career status. It doesn’t matter, handicapped people; anyone can be…elderly victims of intimate partner violence. It just takes one time. It doesn’t have to be a repeat cycle of physical violence - that it can just be one instance of physical violence and someone’s life is over. And people can be married for 5 years or 55 years and there can be intimate partner violence when things seemed calm all along.

 

Those would be the things for me; for a Trail of Existence is to help educate people of what the signs are, but that if this does happen and by God’s grace, you’re fortunate enough to live through it, that life can pick up on and you can go out and help other people.

 

 

 

Do you have any parting thoughts? 

 

“I’d like to give a shout out there and say, ‘Hey! Dudes! Get involved!’ Because women and men, everyone…children, deserve to be respected.”

 

Number one, it’s not any victim’s fault. Number two, the family members who are loving and supporting the victim…sometimes they often don’t know what to do and they’re doing the best they can do, and they may say sometimes, “I’m not gonna be there for you”, but fortunately, I didn’t have that happen to me, but I know friends who have and, you’re family is gonna come through, OK? In most cases. There are resources out there. And once you get yourself back on your feet and get stabilized, to get out there and be an advocate of some type. Whether it’s just on social media, which is pretty dang powerful. Whether it’s working with a legislator, or whether it’s talking to someone that you meet on the street, you can see what’s going on. If you see someone out in public and they are screaming and yelling at the victim, or treating them poorly, then get a hold of the police and get the police involved, because you always have to be concerned for your own safety. The parting thought is that it’s gonna take all of us. It’s gonna take all of us in society. Recently, I had some people come speak to my class and after they left, I asked the students, I said, “Who do you think really is gonna be the one to lead the change in our society?” And this 14 year-old-kid said, “Dudes.” And if a 14 year old can say, “We really need dudes to step it up.” Then I’d like to give a shout out there and say, “Hey! Dudes! Get involved!” Because women and men, everyone…children, deserve to be respected.  We’re human beings that God created special and unique and we deserve to be respected and treated well [big smile].

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WARNING: this website contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence that some may find graphic or triggering and not appropriate for all ages.

 

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Domestic Violence Stories