Today, we are meeting with Mildred Muhammad. What I love about my good friend Mildred is that she is absolutely a humble woman. You would think a woman like her would never be able to help others. We almost expect that in our society. After trauma, many people turn to violence as the answer. But, Mildred took that energy and made an example out of her life. She is strong, vibrant and quite charismatic. She is raising her children and is about helping her community, especially through her knowledge in domestic violence. My interview with Mildred starts now.
Kellibrew: First and foremost, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to dialogue with you. We have been dialoguing for about a month now and it just seems like yesterday my god-sister Tiffany Gates, just died. You immediately reached out to me and that really put a lot of things in perspective for me. There were many who reached out to me and my family and I appreciate them all. What made you reach out to me? I mean, you have been through so much yourself and you are such a busy person.
Muhammad: Thank you William for this opportunity to share information as well. I have my yahoo alert set on ‘domestic violence’ stories which I receive and read daily. There are some people I reach out to, just to thank them for having the courage to speak up. To encourage them and let them know they are not alone. That’s the most important concern for me is not having that feeling of being alone. And with all I’ve been through, I know that others may feel that way too. It’s important that those going through an abusive situation know that they are not alone. I reached out to you for the same reason. Your story touched my heart so much. I was so sorry to read about your immediate family and then your special friend. I wanted you to know that you are not alone, and all that you’ve done and are doing, I’m sure your mother is very proud of you.
Kellibrew: Thanks again. Those are really warm words and I appreciate them. You were definitely right. I did need somebody there and you have helped me tremendously. It’s so good to know there are people out there willing to reach outside of themselves to help another person. I am sure readers would like to know what you are doing right now. You are leading an organisation, right? Can you tell us about your organisation and what is your role in the community?
Muhammad: Yes, that is correct. My organization is After The Trauma. We assist victims and survivors of domestic violence through counseling and referrals so they can find their way out of their situation and stabilize where they are now. You can visit the website, http://www.afterthetrauma.org/ to browse the programs we offer. I speak locally and nationally on my story in particular and domestic violence in general at conferences, seminars, and workshops. My story is about the domestic violence most people don’t pay attention to. And that is verbal, mental, spiritual, economic, stalking and emotional. 20% of domestic violence is physical. 80% is not. 75% of victims that leave are killed. 25% of victims that leave survive, but barely.
Kellibrew: That’s some great information. Readers, please go to the website. You will learn so much. You know, Mildred, we really clicked from the very beginning, but I must admit, I was so anxious to meet you because the D.C. Sniper case simply jolted the D.C. area, the nation, and the world. My friends from overseas still talk about this case today. They were concerned for my safety and the safety of everyone in our area. I cannot imagine being in the situation you were in. You obviously lived in a world of fear for years. Your story is so much like my mother’s. As you know, she was killed along with my brother by her ex-boyfriend. We lived with this killer for 7 months, but unbelievably, you were married to John Allen Muhammad for over 12 years. How on God’s green earth did you ever survive as long as you did? Also, during one of our previous conversations you mentioned that death for you was almost eminent. Can you take us back to a point when you were absolutely concerned for your life and your children’s lives?
Muhammad: Let me say that for the 23 days John had this area in a grip, everyone walked in the shoes of a victim and survivor of domestic violence. Remember the fear you felt on a daily basis? Not knowing if you were going to live or die that day? That is EXACTLY how we feel. It takes time to get over that kind of fear. I lived under that kind of fear from September 1999 to October 24, 2002. As I’m answering this question, I remember that fear and how much I wanted someone to help and believe me, but no one did. It is so painful to go through that and no one understands. Others look at you like you are crazy. Which is the fuel I burn when I think of helping others who may find themselves in this situation. This is not a job for me…this is my passion, my life. I will continue in the work until I die. I believe this is where God wants me to be. I’ve accepted that and will continue to do all I can not to turn women away.
I survived by listening to my spirit. By believing that God was going to bring me through because everyone I’d gone to for help, turned their backs on me because I didn’t have the physical scars to prove that I was a victim of domestic violence. My children and I were the first victims. And yet, we have received no compensation from any agency to help us get back on our feet. That I still find difficult to accept. How many women are walking around in a domestic violence situation and need help but are unable to receive it because they can’t prove the abuse without the scars. People blamed me for the shootings. They said that me and my children were not victims, I should have stayed on the west coast and then the people on the east coast would be alive. They said had I stayed with him, then he would have only killed me.
The shootings were [part of] a very detailed plan to kill me. Innocent people died because John didn’t want my murder to come back on him. My heart goes out to the victims’ families. I am so sorry for their loss. The police are now saying the random shootings was a cover for my death. He would come in as the grieving father to get custody of our children and walk away with the $100,000 compensation they were giving the victims’ families at that time. Again, me or my children have not been compensated for our victimization.
I was concerned for my life in 1999 when John and I separated. His behavior became irrational. He said to me, “You have become my enemy and as my enemy I will kill you.” John is a man of his word. He is not an idle talker. He says what he means, and he means what he says. I knew that it would be a matter of time for him to bring that into fruition.
Kellibrew: Wow. I am so glad you made it through. Your story is powerful for those who are going through similar trauma. It takes a remarkable person to struggle and get through what you have been through. We both know how much it takes to rebuild our lives as victims and now survivors. Essentially, you were living with the enemy. What was the defining point or moment for you? When did you know to leave or were you absolutely forced to leave?
Muhammad: My defining point was when he said, “You have become my enemy and as my enemy I will kill you.” John’s personal motto was/is never leave an enemy behind. After I received my lifetime restraining order in February 2000, we established weekend child visitation to occur every other weekend so he could see our children. It was just until we went to court to establish a parenting plan of who would legally have the children. The weekend of March 22, 2000, was his weekend. A friend of ours picked up the children and they were to be brought back on that Monday because it was my Mom’s birthday. To make a long story short, he didn’t bring them home. My son told me later that they boarded a plane that night and headed for Antigua. I would also find out that he emptied our bank accounts. He left me and my mother penniless. It would be 18 months before I saw my children again. That’s a long time to go without knowing where your children are.
Kellibrew: What heartache for a mother. I am sure mothers out there can identify. There was another child involved in this situation, a young man by the name of Lee Boyd Malvo. This young man was also convicted of charges stemming from the killings. Had you ever met Lee Boyd Malvo?
Muhammad: I have never met Lee Malvo. The first time I've seen him was at his trial when I testified on his behalf because my children asked me to help him. They stated that if it had not been for Daddy, Lee would not be there.
Kellibrew: Thank you for sharing. That took a lot of courage and compassion. Who was he and why did he have an affinity to John Allen Muhammad? How much influence did John have over this young man?
Muhammad: What most people don't know is Lee and my son were best friends. When John kidnapped them and took them to Antigua, they met Lee. He became a part of their family and was considered the 'big brother'. When their dad would leave them in Antigua to come back to the states to find me, he left Lee in charge to care for them until he returned. John had the same influence over Lee as a father would have over this own son.
Kellibrew: When you lived with John, did he seem like he could be manipulative and how were you convinced of this, if so?
Muhammad: John's behavior changed when he returned from the Gulf War in 1991. Before this, he did not have these behaviors. He was not debriefed nor did he receive counseling when he returned.
Kellibrew: This is an issue. Here we are on the dawn of a war, the war in Iraq. We also have the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror. These wars have a tremendous impact on our soldiers and soldiers’ families. The effect of these wars may spawn other violence such as John’s case. God bless our soldiers who are defending us and we need to make sure that they are taken care of when they come back home. They have seen so much and have been exposed to violence that some of us will never witness. Counseling should be absolutely mandatory or required. It is important to talk about what they experienced. Counseling may be able to prevent some of the issues that stem from stress suffered from the war. Some of our readers are in relationships now where danger is eminent and it is so hard to get out. My heart goes out to those individuals. What do you recommend these individuals do to try to get out of the relationships? Is there a step-by-step process?
Muhammad: You have to have a plan to leave. Click on this link: http://www.afterthetrauma.org/PersonalizedSafetyPlan.pdf It will take you directly to a comprehensive safety plan. Do not take this plan home for the abuser to see. If you don’t work outside your home, print it out, complete and give it to someone you trust to hold. Modify it as often as you need. In step 8, there is a list of items you should put away. Again, give these items to someone you trust. Don’t tell everyone what you are doing. You don’t know who the abuser knows. Once you have your plan in place, you will know when to leave. If you are not in a position to plan and feel you have to leave now…that’s a difficult position to be in. Not impossible, just difficult. If you have good friends and family to stay with, that is a blessing. Get to them as soon as you can and call the police. If you are financially stable on your own, check into a hotel or motel, call the police for help and an advocate will be assigned to you. This safety plan is very thorough. It’s a fill in the blank. As you complete it, it will come together for you. Above all, stop reacting and start acting. Call the police for help. Try to think clearly when making decisions that will alter you whole life. This is a life altering experience. You will never be the same again.
Kellibrew: I think it is so important to be cognizant of who your choice for dates are. There are ways to know if a person is not right for you and that they might be abusive down the road. What are some of the signs that we should look for in order to detect violent behavior, early, before the cycle begins or continues?
Muhammad: The signs are so different. And once the person is found out, they change their behavior. There are many sites that offer this information. One of the ways I can advise someone to do is to watch the behavior of the person you are involved with. The Bible says to recognize the spirits when they come. So that means to be watchful. When your gut tells you something is wrong…something is wrong. Do not ignore your instincts. God gave all of us ways to recognize those situations in our lives that will cause problems. Sometimes we listen, sometimes we don’t. That’s why we often times say, I should have listened to my first mind. That is your spirit warning you that there is a problem.
Kellibrew: What can people do to protect their family members out there who may be getting abused? And what can strangers do as well when they see violence occurring in their environment?
Muhammad: There is only one question that should be asked when you know someone is being abused, whether you know them or not. That question is ‘how can I help’. Do not play the hero. And do not assume you know what the victim wants to do. That is an empowering question. You may be the only one that has asked the victim what he/she wants to do. Others have been telling her/him what they should or shouldn’t do. Often when that is the case, she will not contact you again because now you have become a part of the problem. You are not listening. You sound just like the abuser.
If you are not able to help or want to [help] after finding out the information, then give that person resource information. The list attached is things you should and should not say to victims and survivors.
Kellibrew: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about the issue of violence that we may have missed?
Muhammad: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I hope what we’ve said will assist someone who finds themselves in this situation. After The Trauma is here to help. I know this is a terrible economic time we are in. Imagine for a minute what it feels like for a victim or survivor. After The Trauma is a 501©3 organization. All donations are tax deductible. Please donate $5.00 or more to assist us with helping the very people that need it so much. You will receive a receipt upon the completion of your donation. The link is provided for your convenience, http://www.afterthetrauma.org/donate.html Society has forgotten us and no one really wants to hear about this issue. Domestic violence does not have a religion, financial or educational status, race, creed, culture. It can happen to anyone at any time, men, women and children.
I’ve written a survivor’s journal that can be purchased from my site. The link is http://www.afterthetrauma.org/myjournal.html. As the former wife of John Allen Muhammad, I've felt no one could handle my 'emotions'. I knew I had to get them outside of myself to heal. I began journaling and found more emotions I didn't realize existed. I couldn't tell anyone because I felt ashamed, guilty, and thought no one would believe me anyway. But...writing them down gave me the opportunity to truly focus on my pain and how these emotions were affecting my everyday living.
My book is being published and will be released October 2009 by Simon and Schuster. The title is “Scared Silent”. There are many errors out there about this situation. My book will correct those errors and shed more light on the entire situation.
Thank you again for this opportunity.
Kellibrew: Mildred, you are so welcome as always. I cannot thank you enough for agreeing to tell your story on my blogspot. There is somebody out there who needs this uplift and information you have shared. There are so many young woman who share Tiffany Gates' fear out there. There are so many Mildred Muhammads out there. Tiffany may be gone from earth, God bless her soul, but You have a choice while you are alive. I am buying my sister, and another friend, and me, our survival journal right now. Thanks Mildred.
Well, there you have it. This concludes my interview with Mildred and don’t worry, I know she will be back. I have also written an article for her monthly newsletter. If you want to be plugged in, don’t forget to go to her website http://www.afterthetrauma.org/. You will find a wealth of information geared to save your life or someone else’s. I added the list of things to say and not to say to victims per Mildred’s request. You will find them below.
Til next time.
GOOD THINGS TO SAY TO VICTIMS
T How can I help you?
T What can I do for you?
T I’m sorry.
T What happened is not your fault.
T I believe you.
T Your case is important/unique.
T Are you safe?
T Do you have any concerns about your safety?
T Who else have your spoken to?
T Would you like a referral for further victim assistance?
T Can I make any calls for you?
T Do you need anything else?
T If you do, contact me at....
T I know this is one more interruption in your life.
T If you have a serious problem or crisis, dial 911.
T You are not going crazy.
T I can’t imagine, but...
T I can’t possibly understand what you are going through, but I’m going to try and help you.
T I don’t know, but I’ll find out.
T How are you doing?
T Let’s see if we can figure out your most important needs right now.
T I’m glad you called.
BAD THINGS TO SAY TO VICTIMS
T I know how you feel.
T I understand what you’re going through.
T Why were you....didn’t you...?
T Your case reminds me of another victim I dealt with...
T As a general rule of thumb...
T It’s God’s will (or any religious platitude).
T Move on, put it behind you.
T You need to get over it/ get on with your life.
T I can promise you that will happen for sure.
T If I were in your shoes....
T You’re so strong...
T You’re so lucky...
T At least you weren’t hurt.
T You should forgive.
T Time heals all wounds.
T Why didn’t you.....?
T It could be worse.
T What you need is.....
T Get over it. Get on with your life.
T You’re not the only victim I’m trying to help.
T Offenders aren’t really bad people...
T The poor defendant had a really tough childhood....
T Nothing at all.
T Avoid using generalizations.
T Avoid comparisons with other victims or cases.