Sunday, December 15, 2019

'Para Votar'

Milwaukee Latino Immigrants Study To Become Citizens In Response To Political Climate

An audio feature, which aired on Milwaukee's public radio, WUWM, in October. 
Click here for the audio file. Following is the transcript. 

Every week, two dozen or so Latinos meet on Milwaukee’s south side. They're studying to become U.S. citizens. It is an often-unnoticed response to the current political climate, as President Trump made reshaping immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, his presidency, and his 2020 re-election bid. 

Celia Saguen (left), from Guatemala, studies with a fellow Latina immigrant during a recent U.S. citizenship class at Voces de la Frontera on Milwaukee’s south side.
The Latino population — or, to use a gender-neutral term, the Latinx population — has grown steadily over the years. It accounts for almost 20% of Milwaukee's population today.
Discrimination has always been an issue. But since the 2016 election, concerns have multiplied. Take Maria for example. She's lived in Milwaukee for 40 years, but she's just now preparing to take her citizenship exam.
"I didn't use to think it was necessary, but now I do. I feel it’s important for me to become a citizen," says Maria.
Juan Jose Carlos Gomez Guerra.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, he has lived in Milwaukee for 42 years.
The citizenship classes are run by the community group Voces de la Frontera. The classes focus on the civics test that's part of the citizenship interview.
Age of the students range from youth in their 20s to seniors well past the age of Medicare. All of them focus on learning the answers, and many on improving their English.
So, why become U.S. citizens? Several talked about the chance for better jobs, for a better education, for a better life for their children. But there was one overwhelming response. They wanted to vote — or "para votar" in Spanish.
"To vote for my representatives. To have a voice and a vote. It is always important to vote. But now, it is more important," one student explains.

‘You are still a slave'

How ‘reforms’ expand our racially unjust ‘criminal justice’ system
 First published by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, July 30, 2019. By Barbara J. Miner and Robert S. Smith.
As a teenager in Milwaukee, Caliph Muab-El got in with the wrong crowd, got in trouble and started carrying a gun. One day, he saw someone who had robbed him. He thought the guy was reaching for a gun, so he shot first, injuring the man. Muab-El later pleaded guilty to reckless injury with the use of a dangerous weapon.
It was the late 1990s, a “get tough on crime” era. Muab-El, a 15-year-old teenager, was waived into adult court and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
While in prison, Muab-El converted to Islam, became a Sufi minister and, to reflect his new identity as a Moorish-American, changed what had been his legal name, Anthony Stevens. After his release in 2011, Muab-El no longer lived behind bars, but he was put on parole for a minimum of seven years.
Caliph Muab-El, in his West Allis home 
Muab-El’s story highlights how parole, once seen as a reform, has evolved into a sophisticated form of control and surveillance and is a major factor in the state’s mass incarceration.
Every person on probation/parole in Wisconsin receives a long list of rules they must follow, known as Rules of Supervision. The rules are, in essence, a 24-7 system of control. If someone alleges that you broke even a single rule, for example that you went to Chicago for the day without permission, you can be apprehended and kept in custody while the allegation is investigated. If the allegation is proven, you can be re-imprisoned even if you did not commit a new crime — a practice known as “crimeless revocation.”
Muab-El knows how easy it is to seemingly violate the Rules of Supervision and be put behind bars. “As long as you are on parole, you have one foot in the cell and one foot in the free world,” he says. “At any time, both feet could be back in jail.”
He knows because it happened to him.
On Feb. 7, 2018, Muab-El was picked up by police and sent to the Columbia County Jail in Portage. The reason? An allegation was made that, four years earlier, Muab-El had committed a crime and had violated his Rules of Supervision.
The investigating police officer found no evidence to substantiate the allegation and no charges were filed. The Department of Corrections, however, has the authority to apprehend someone who is alleged to have violated their Rules of Supervision. In the case of Muab-El, it did so.
The case centered on allegations by the mother of Muab-El’s son that they had sex that she now claimed was non-consensual. Muab-El’s case finally came before an administrative law judge that summer.
In her decision, the judge noted that the allegations were brought four years after the fact “without any corroborating evidence,” and that the woman “has an obvious and clear bias against Mr. Muab-El.” The judge went on to note that that “the entire claim smacks of retaliation and an attempt to manipulate custody of the child.”
On July 24, the judge ruled that Muab-El had not violated his Rules of Supervision and ordered him released. He had spent six months in jail awaiting the decision.
Muab-El’s case also highlights how a person on probation/parole has diminished freedoms and fewer constitutional rights. For instance:
Mere allegations are sufficient cause to be jailed. Until a hearing is requested, there is no right to bail. When there is a hearing on the allegations, the hearing is in the jail or prison and the public is not allowed, not even a family member. At the hearing, hearsay evidence is allowed. There is no presumption of innocence. The burden of proof is not “beyond a reasonable doubt” but a looser standard of “the preponderance of the evidence.”
Muab-El, who moved to West Allis this spring, is still subject to his Rules of Supervision and remains in a constant state of anxiety.
“Everything you do is censored, is under surveillance,” he says.
“You are not free,” he continues. “You are still a slave.”
If all goes well, Caliph Muab-El will be off parole in four years. He will be 41 years old and will have spent almost two-thirds of his life under the control of the criminalization industry for a crime he committed at age 15.
Multiply Muab-El’s story 
In the popular mind, mass incarceration refers to the unprecedented number of people in prison, in particular African Americans. But the problem is more complex.
Probation and parole — euphemistically known as “community corrections” —have become essential to controlling Black bodies and criminalizing conduct that is part of everyday living. It is increasingly clear that we will never end the epidemic of mass incarceration without reforming our system of probation and parole.
A report in January by the Columbia University Justice Lab notes that probation and parole, rather than worthwhile reforms, are increasingly recognized “as a contributor, rather than an alternative,” to mass incarceration.
This is especially true in Wisconsin.
Almost 65,000 people in Wisconsin were under probation or parole in 2016 — “just shy of the population of Oshkosh,” according to the Columbia University Justice Lab. The number dwarfs those actually in prison that year, about 23,000 people. (Parole is a term used both by the general public and by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. In Wisconsin, most formerly incarcerated people are not on parole, but are under a system of post-prison control known as “extended supervision.” Rules of Supervision apply to both groups.)
Overall, the ratio of people on parole in Wisconsin exceeds the national average, and the length of time on parole is nearly twice the national average.
Consider this disturbing statistic: roughly 37 percent of admissions to the state’s prisons in 2017 involved people who had not committed a new crime. They had merely violated one of their Rules of Supervision and had their parole or probation revoked— a practice known as “rules violation” or “crimeless revocation.”
African Americans are disproportionately affected. In 2017, Black people were incarcerated for violating their Rules of Supervision more than twice as often as whites, according to the Columbia University Justice Lab.
The disparity feeds into broader racial inequities. Overall, although Black people made up only 6 percent of Wisconsin’s adult population, they made up 41 percent of the state’s prison population in 2017. That same year, U.S. Census Bureau data show that roughly 1 in 14 Black men in Wisconsin were in prison, double the national average.
Learning from history 
There is no easy answer to ending the criminalization of Black people in this country. This cornerstone to structural racism is deeply woven into our nation’s DNA.
At the very least, however, we must understand how our criminalization industry is a bedrock of white supremacy, integral to white control over Black bodies. This desire for control was at the heart of slavery when the nation was founded, of the Black Codes immediately following emancipation, of Jim Crow era segregation, and of mass criminalization today.
When one system of racial control was thwarted, a new system emerged.
Slavery lasted almost 250 years and only ended after a bloody Civil War. After the war, white southerners developed “Black Codes” that severely limited the freedom of African Americans and made them a source of cheap labor to rebuild the South and maintain white supremacy.
The Black Codes helped pave the way for the system of Jim Crow that mandated racial segregation and second-class citizenship for all Black people. Following the formal end of Jim Crow a half century ago, mass incarceration became central to maintaining white supremacy. (We use the term “white supremacy” to include not just overtly racist ideology, but also the social, political and economic structures that promote individual and collective white privilege.)
The similarities between history and today’s systems of control become clear when comparing Wisconsin’s Rules of Supervision for people on parole/probation, to the Black Codes used by Southern states to control Black people after the abolition of slavery.
Both rely on vague yet sweeping grounds for being apprehended and imprisoned. Both control and limit mobility and economic options. Both criminalize activities that are a part of daily life. Both uphold a core tenet of white supremacy — that Black bodies are subject to both constant surveillance and serve as a source of exploitation and profits.
The infamous Mississippi Black Codes of 1865, in its section on “vagrants,” stipulates:
That all rogues and vagabonds, idle and dissipated persons, beggars, jugglers, or persons practicing unlawful games or plays, runaways, common drunkards, common nightwalkers, pilferers, lewd, wanton, or lascivious persons, in speech or behavior, common railer and brawlers, persons who neglect their calling or employment, misspend what they earn, or do not provide for the support of themselves or their families or dependents, and all other idle and disorderly persons, including all who neglect all lawful business, or habitually misspend their time by frequenting houses of ill-fame, gaming houses, or tippling shops, shall be deemed and considered vagrants … and, on conviction thereof shall be fined … and be imprisoned at the discretion of the court …
Wisconsin’s Rules of Supervision are similarly all-encompassing. Here are six of the standard 18 rules:
• Avoid all conduct which is in violation of federal or state statute, municipal or country ordinances, tribal law, or which is not in the best interest of the public welfare of your rehabilitation.
• Inform your agent of your whereabouts and activities as he/she directs.
• Make yourself available for searches including but not limited to residence, property, computer, cell phone or another electronic device under you control.
• Obtain approval from your agent prior to changing residence or employment.
• Obtain approval and a travel permit from your agent prior to leaving the State of Wisconsin.
• Obtain approval from your agent prior to borrowing money or purchasing on credit.
Most people have 25 to 55 rules. One of the most common additions: “Shall not possess or consume any alcohol. You shall not be in any establishment where the primary purpose is the sale of alcohol. This includes but is not limited to taverns, bars or liquor stores.”
Moving forward
Here in Wisconsin, there are several important reform initiatives currently underway.
In a recent report, the American Civil Liberties outlined reforms to cut by half Wisconsin’s prison population. They range from ending crimeless revocations, to improved mental health services, to community-based alternatives to incarceration. (For information, search the web for “Smart Justice ACLU of Wisconsin.”)
The campaign to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility also has garnered widespread support from community and religious organizations, and national groups such as JustLeadership USA. (Search for “Close MSDF.”)
The MSDF opened as a medium-security prison in downtown Milwaukee in 2001. It was the first state facility in the country specifically designed to incarcerate people who may have violated their Rules of Supervision.
MSDF is infamous nationally for its inhumane conditions, from overcrowding, to insufficient sufficient heating and air conditioning, to lack of sunlight and outdoor recreation. Seventeen people have died at the facility since it opened.
Taking responsibility
In his writings, the noted author Ta-Nehisi Coates has poignantly described why this country’s criminalization of Blacks—from policing through incarceration and parole—remains remarkably resilient. Referring to police departments, but within the context of this country’s overall criminal justice system, Coates notes:
“… police departments… have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy…All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.”
It is long past time to demand responsibility and, especially for white allies, to go beyond one’s comfort zone in demanding change. Equally important, we must ensure that reform proposals guard against creating new mechanisms of control and inadvertently expanding our racially unjust “criminal justice” system.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., came under attack from white liberals for his focus on direct action and civil disobedience. In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King chastised white moderates who prefer “order” to justice.
Racism is rooted not just in “the hateful words and actions of bad people,” King wrote, but also in “the appalling silence of the good people."
Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee-based writer and photograph. Robert S. Smith is a professor in the history department at Marquette University and director of the university's Center for Urban Research, Teaching and Outreach.

"Para votar — to vote." Voces de la Frontera sponsors citizenship classes.

Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, WI, has sponsored citizenship classes for more than a decade. Iin recent years, the desire to vote has become a significant factor in becoming a citizen. As one young student told me, "It is always important to vote. But now, it is more important.”
One a recent Wednesday, I took portraits of students at the citizenship class. Here are a selected few of the portraits. 

To see the complete PDF document on the class, click here.

Mari Gomez, Juan Jose Carlos Gomez Guerra.
Mari: Born in Mexico. Juan: Born in Guadalajara, Mexico. Both have lived in the United States for 42 years, in Milwaukee.

Samuel Gonzalez.

Born in Yahulica, Mexico.
Samuel and his wife Irma have lived in the United States for 50 years, 24 in Milwaukee.

Jesus Antonio Rocha Morales.

Born in Lazaro Cardenas Chihuahua, Mexico, Jesus has lived 24 years in the United States, in Milwaukee.

Erika M. Rodarte Botello.
Born in Zacatecas, Mexico she has lived 5 years in the United States, in Milwaukee.

Rafael Mora.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Rafael has lived 31 years in the United States, in Milwaukee.

Maria Andrade.

Born in Silao Guanajuato, Mexico, she has lived 14 years in the United States, in Milwaukee.

Maria Aguila,

Born in Guadalajara Mexico, she has lived 17 years in the United States, in Milwaukee.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Interview on "Hidden Homelessness" —WUWM's Lake Effect

I had the pleasure of being on WUWM's "Lake Effect" broadcast on Friday March 15, talking about my recent article in Milwaukee Magazine on the city's crisis of "hidden homelessness." I had the pleasure of being on Lake Effect with Natalie Hayden, one of the people profiled in the article.

Click here to hear the show.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Out from the Shadows

Meet five people willing to share the stories of their homelessness – from the streets to the shelters to the transient world of couch surfing.

By Barbara Miner
Originally published in the March 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. 


You know about the shelters, offering a hot meal and a bed out of the cold. You’ve seen the people huddled under overpasses, sometimes holding signs asking for money. You saw the tent city under the Marquette Interchange, a place for people who had no other.

But Milwaukee’s homeless are many more in number and circumstances. 

They include the men, women and children “couch surfing,” doubling or tripling up with relatives and friends, living in motels or hotels, or soon to be evicted.

On the positive side, there’s progress being made against traditional homelessness. The number of people in shelters or living on the street has dropped nearly by half in Milwaukee County in the last 10 years to 871 people in January 2018.

The plight of the “hidden homeless,” however, is getting worse.

“Right now we have a system that works once you are in the absolute worst place – outside or in an emergency shelter,” notes Emily Kenney, a member of Continuum of Care, a consortium of agencies battling homelessness. “What we haven’t figured out is making sure housing is available for everyone, and that it’s safe, stable and affordable.”

The best estimate comes from Milwaukee Public Schools, which is required by federal law to provide services to children who meet the broader definition of “homeless.”

Within MPS, 4,576 children were homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year – almost 6 percent of the district’s students. A decade earlier, when enrollment was significantly higher, the number was 2,296. Factor in their parents, other adult men and women, and children in private schools or not of school age and you get a truer sense of the scope of homelessness in Milwaukee.

Behind these numbers are people – invariably proud and determined – with complicated lives who refuse to be defined by the term “homeless.” More often than not, their housing instability is related to larger issues: race, LGBTQ status, domestic violence, criminal convictions, health or poverty.

In the weeks surrounding New Year’s Day, Milwaukee Magazine interviewed a range of people who understand the realities of being without a place to call home. Here are their stories.

Bria Burris

When the Past Blocks the Future

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Since last June, 28-year-old Bria Burris and her 9- and 11-year-old daughters have been couch surfing – a euphemism for “I have no home and am crashing with friends, relatives and acquaintances.”

When interviewed in late December, Burris (whose legal first name is Tequila) was asked what she might want to say to Milwaukee Magazine readers. She said she wanted to think about it. Two weeks later, she sent an email.

“I’ve thought about the question almost every day,” she wrote, “and I keep traveling back to, ‘It’s easy to judge character when you don’t know the story.’

“Everything in my life says that I would fail. I’m a statistic many times over. I’m a woman, I’m black. Born in prison, two drug-addicted parents, survivors of our ‘great’ foster system, survivor of sexual abuse, teen mother, single mother, low-income, convicted felon. And I’m sure I could go on.

“But it’s like this. Everything in my past says that I will fail and then my children, in turn, will fail. … So everything that I do now is to level the playing field, to give to my children a fair shot by any means.”

Burris attends Milwaukee Area Technical College and is working toward a degree in human services. She credits the MATC teachers’ union for helping her, especially with her biggest problem: a felony drug conviction.

Burris’ mother kicked her out of their home when she was 15, and she got in with the wrong crowd. In 2012, she pleaded guilty to a felony charge for selling marijuana – with the understanding that her record would be expunged if she met various conditions, including community service, continuing her education and staying out of trouble.

Burris kept her end of the bargain, but because of a legal technicality, her record remains. She’s hopeful the technicality will be worked out. But so far, she says, that felony conviction has shut door after door – from financial aid to housing to employment.

“Everyone says, ‘Work hard, get yourself out of that hole,’” Burris says. “But if you have that felony label, how can you? You can’t even get a job interview.”

Burris does not know what the future holds. But she has learned that she is both determined and resilient. “I have to be, for my children,” she says. “I refuse to give them the lifestyle I endured as a child.”

Ferdinand Rodriguez

A Father, Three Kids and a Truck

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Aug. 14 was a balmy summer evening, a magical time in Milwaukee. But not for Ferdinand Rodriguez and his three children. They were homeless.

For a second night they would sleep in his 1997 Mercury Mountaineer parked near Kosciuszko Park in the shadow of the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

The air-conditioning didn’t work, but Rodriguez tried to make the SUV comfortable. The front seats were reclined and the back seats were laid back flat. He also had water, juice and snacks for his children, Felicity, 12; Michelle, 7; and Noah, 2.

“Daddy, I don’t want to sleep in the truck,” Michelle said as they settled in for the night. It broke Rodriguez’s heart.

“I prayed to God, and he heard my prayers,” he remembers. The next day, the emergency helpline 211 put him in touch with the shelter run by Hope House of Milwaukee.

A welder by trade, the 47-year-old Rodriguez moved to Milwaukee in 2009 after the company he worked for in Chicago shut down. He found a job and all went reasonably well for him and his children.

But in the fall of 2017, his life started falling apart. His wife, who struggled with drug addiction, left in November. His arthritis, exacerbated by years of manual labor and heavy lifting, and his gout got worse. He missed work. He fell behind on rent. In June, he lost his job and was evicted from his home in South Milwaukee.
Devastated, Rodriguez focused on taking care of his children. He borrowed money, cashed in his 401(k) savings, couch surfed and stayed at a low-rent hotel near South 27th Street and West National Avenue. By mid-August, the SUV was all he had left.

Although Hope House generally provides short-term shelter, the Rodriguez family was able to stay there through January. The goal is to move into private housing, with rent subsidies for up to a year.

“When they told me I would get my own place through their help, I wanted to cry,” Rodriguez says.

He is also thankful for Hope House’s “wraparound” services, from money management to educational, medical and job support. He’s getting back on his feet, one step at a time. “I just want to make sure my children have a roof over their head,” he says. “And I want to go to work.”

Rodriquez did not hesitate to include his children in the portrait for Milwaukee Magazine.

“Maybe it will show people not to give up,” he says. “Just because you’re down once, doesn’t mean you can’t go back up. That’s life. Ups and downs.”

Anna Scott

Guaranteed Rent, No Guaranteed Home

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Anna Scott, 25, is an African-American, transgender woman who has been couch surfing since last April. Even she isn’t sure of the relationship between those aspects of her identity and the fact that she’s homeless.

“I never know how to discern whether it is legitimate discrimination – of being black, or being trans, or being female, because they don’t always know I’m trans,” Scott notes. “Or maybe the person was having a shitty day.”

What Scott does know is that homelessness doesn’t always mean that you’re dirt-poor, or that you don’t have a job, or that you’re an addict. Before she became homeless, Scott held some of these same stereotypes. “I thought, ‘How could anybody become homeless?’” she says. “‘How dumb could you be?’”

Scott has since learned that when it comes to low- and moderate-income housing in Milwaukee, it’s a landlord’s world. “My form of homelessness is not just solely about not having money,” Scott says. Her paid work is primarily through the gig economy, without the steady and plump W-2 statements that landlords love. The fact that her driver’s license has her male birth name complicates matters. And landlords don’t like complications.

Scott entered the world of couch surfing after an eviction she believes was partly about her transgender status and partly about falling behind in rent after a roommate didn’t pay her share. Scott admits she “dropped the ball” by not checking her mail and thus receiving the eviction notice before it was too late to do much. And while she can’t prove this, she is also convinced that the landlord rejected her attempts to make good on the back rent because she is a transgender woman.

Scott began hormone treatments about two years ago, and her transgender status has strained relations with family and friends. She is building new networks and is thankful for agencies serving the LGBTQ community. She mentions in particular the informal group Sisters Helping Each other Battle Adversity (SHEBA), an outgrowth of the Diverse & Resilientagency.

Even with support, however, it’s difficult.

Scott has been accepted into a rent-subsidy program under which a social service agency guarantees full rent payments for a year. When interviewed in early January, she had spent the night at a low-rent hotel on the edge of Downtown, planning to sign a lease that afternoon.

When Scott went to sign, she was told the apartment “was being painted” and to check back in a few days. The lease ultimately fell through – the seventh time in recent months, despite the legal guarantees the rent would be paid.

John Kowalski

Life by the North Avenue Bridge

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
On Nov. 1, 2017, after 18 years on the streets, John Kowalski decided it was time to come in. “I was getting too old to be outside,” he says. Besides, winter was coming. “I was tired of being cold.”

The decision took awhile, but once made, Kowalski knew where to go: Guest House, an agency providing both shelter and the services needed to build a new life.Almost a year later, in September 2018, he moved into an apartment with his brother in the Brady Street area.

At the age of 58, Kowalski has found contentment and purpose. He meditates and takes time to enjoy his morning coffee. He volunteers at Guest House, preparing and serving lunches and in the summer working in its gardens. “I’m finding myself again,” he says.
The oldest of four children, Kowalski dropped out of high school after ninth grade. He started a family while still young and began drinking heavily. He also had mental health problems. By the year 2000, his life’s downward spiral had left him homeless.

Kowalski reduced life to basics: alcohol, food and shelter, which consisted primarily of tarps, tents and cast-off sleeping bags. He took part-time menial jobs to earn cash, and is proud that he never panhandled. He walked everywhere, learned the finer points of dumpster diving, and took advantage of various meal and clothing programs. Over time, he became an expert in urban wilderness survival, with two rules above all: Stay warm and dry.

A few years before coming in from the cold, Kowalski had made another life-changing decision. After some medical scares, he decided to get sober. At the time, he was in his fifth year living in a tent hidden amid thick brush off the eastern bank of the Milwaukee River, near the North Avenue Bridge. “I could hear the river at night,” he says. “It was peaceful. That’s what I liked the most.” A coyote walked by once and they just looked at each other. He occasionally crossed paths with deer. He adopted a feral cat.

Now, Kowalski has reconnected with his children and grandchildren, and is thankful to Guest House and its staff for all they have done. And he is not ashamed of his past.

When he greets you, his handshake is firm, his voice is steady, and he looks directly at you with eyes so blue that they can take your breath away.

“I lived a rough life in a big city, and I’m still here,” he says. “Lots of people don’t make it.”

Natalie Hayden
An Abusive Home, Then None

Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki
Natalie Hayden thought she had defied the odds. An African-American growing up in a city infamous for racism, segregation and poverty, she graduated from college, married and was raising her daughter in a two-parent family. On the surface, life seemed good.

But there was a darker reality. Hayden was a victim of domestic abuse.

Hayden, 37, tried at least seven times to leave her husband, once for several months. But being a single parent was hard. Besides, she loved her husband and he always seemed sincere about reconciling. Then there was the mental trap, the belief that if she tried harder, things might work.

That changed in late February 2017. Hayden came home to find her husband ransacking the living room, accusing her of stealing financial documents. “He went from 0 to 10 in no time, pushing me against the wall, pictures falling down,” Hayden recalls. “I was terrified for my life.”

Pinned to the ground, Hayden bit her husband to get him off, so hard she chipped a tooth. She escaped and went to the police. That night, with nowhere to go, she turned to Sojourner Family Peace Center,which has a 54-bed shelter.

Hayden and her daughter stayed at Sojourner for eight life-changing months. “You think you are merely seeking shelter, but I left being healed on so many levels,” she says. In particular, “the sense of community became very important.”

With the help of Sojourner, Hayden got a job at the Milwaukee Job Corpsas a counselorfor at-risk youth and found an apartment. She also learned the importance of a holistic approach to overcoming trauma. Food and fitness became her main coping mechanisms, leading to side jobs as a wellness coach and personal chef. (Tuscan salmon with mushroom risotto is one of her favorite dishes.)

Hayden is perhaps most proud of her volunteer work at Sojourner, especially with its Voices Advisory Committee. As an outgrowth of that committee, she co-hosts a podcast for victims of domestic violence, “ExPOSED with LaVerne and Natalie,” thatseeks to end abuse by doing it “one conversation at a time.”

Hayden also has a message for the broader public: Look beyond the stereotypes of what domestic abuse and homelessness seem to be. “It can happen to anyone, whether they are from Riverwest, Brookfield or Oconomowoc,” she cautions. “It’s one step, one bad decision away.”

Click here for the Milwaukee Magazine article.