Someone needs to write this. Attorneys won't touch it. Local authorities won't touch it. Everyone does what they have done for the last 20 or so years - looks away -hopes that they are not labeled as instigators and tattle tales and pretends nothing bad has ever happened to Hazel Jean.
I moved here over 7 years ago. It wasn't long until I was visited by my neighbor and Hazel Jean. He is/was a big man - powerful, loud, well connected to certain elements, intimidating - yet very friendly. She was sitting in the back of his pick up truck, with his dogs, looking down, mumbling, wearing multiple layers of clothing. It was cold then. I have come to learn that she wore those multiple layers all year round.
Hazel Jean can outcurse and out fuss even the best. She learned it from him. I am told that it's been over 20 years that she was his....captive. Her sense of self worth was slowly beaten out of her and never reaffirmed by anyone who witnessed the tragedy of her existence. I can add myself to that list. When I asked him WHY he told her continually he would beat her, he simply said "that's the only way to keep that n....straight! Everyone knows that! If it weren't for me she would be wild in the woods somewhere!" If it wasn't him outlining to her the future she faced if she rebelled it was another member of his family.
Hazel Jean had her own home - a shed next to his house. She had her own bathing facilities - a 5 gallon bucket. On weekends, she was treated with a bowl of scraps he brought home from church social events. After she washed and hung out his clothes, she was allowed to hang her on along the barbed wire fence at the edge of the property - lucky her! He outlined himself and many of his friends outlined him and still do as "her angel of mercy". Without him, she would end up in some institution/cage instead of the luxury accomodations she had. Many who didn't look the other way as I did advocated his abuse of her as "necessary" to keep her quality of life to the outstanding level it was.
I did ask over the last many years how this happened. How was she lucky to live as a dog, next to the dogs, treated possibly worse than livestock on the farm? How was it that she was always working - sun up to sunset - on the farm - in the garden - in the fields? Why didn't anyone speak out? She was by all legal definitions disabled yet she worked harder than any human I know. I was told people DID speak out but Hazel would always want to be returned to him. I have a friend who filed a report - no one responded. There are sums of complaints and reports. In 1993, there was an investigation and the conditions were found "deplorable" yet she remained. Her fear of "captivity" overwhelmed her fear of the abuses (mental, physical, sexual) she experienced on a daily basis. I suppose she was so indoctrinated to the beatings - sometimes with a whip - and the verbal abuse that she thought that was normal. This modern day slave seemed to embrace her situation. Her mental capacity - diminished before she matured into an adult - left her incapable of realizing that alternatives could possibly be better. His ability to make sure she felt "lucky" to have him was profoundly powerful. After all, according to him - she was like family- you know - like a dog or cat would be.
It's been 7 years. This spring someone noticed - someone with more political pull than him - someone with the ability to stand up for right and say wrong is wrong - someone who contacted other someones. Hazel Jean was removed from captivity by authorities. Her disability funds were redirected from his bank account into an account where her care would be foremost.
First, she went to the hospital to get a real bath, real care, and to sleep in a warm bed. Over the last many months, she's been found accomodations in an extended care facility. She has her own room, her own things, she's fed, she can bath in a real tub. She can sleep in a warm bed. Yet, she still requests to "go home" to her "house" - the shed within which she submitted herself every evening after dark -no heat, no water, no light. His son told her it would be destroyed were she not to return. It was the only thing that was "hers" she ever knew as far as anyone can understand. After a short visit, however, she begins to ellaborate on the abuse. It's the kind of stuff you would have expected a 100 or so years ago.
Then she begins to smile and to talk almost like a normal person. She looks you in the eye, she doesn't mumble. She doesn't bow her head. It would seem that beating her is not required to keep her submissive and under control after all. She's actually funny - witty. I am so undeserving of her notice. I am ashamed I feel so much relief now that she is safe given the fact that I did nothing to secure that for her.
I once told this man not to bring her to my house. That's it! That's the extent to which I went to try to help her. Looking back, that's really pathetic. However, it was enough for him to assume I turned him in and to be harrassed for the last six months by him. My sweet Jo Jo (one of the puppies that I raised from the day it was born) has been poisoned. Many bad things have happened. Am I innocent - absolutely not! I didn't make a stand, I simply pretended to look the other way -just like everyone else. But, all these things that have happened to me remind me of how awfully she must have suffered in the direct power he had over her. I have a husband who defends me. I have a legal system that tries to slow him down. She had nothing. She is a small black woman in a big white man's world. If he can hurt me in the manner by which he has, I imagine how he could have hurt others in the past given his "status" in this small little corner of the world. It sort of helps me reconcile to the facts of the matter.
Even now, no one really wants to hear her story. "She's safe now - be grateful for that" they say. I am grateful because I was not a big enough person to see to it she was safe but someone finally was.
But I wonder. Is putting her in good care and locking her away from him justice? He's free. She's sheltered and protected. But has justice been served to her? Apparently around here people believe it has.
If anyone heard half the stories I have heard regarding what she has endured, they would not feel that way though. She IS caged in order to be protected. That just seems really backwards to me. Yet, even now, no one finds her situation worthy of further notice. They just keep on doing what they have always done - looking the other way.
So today, I am frustrated with the system, with myself and with the guilt I feel. I am sad to know that the majority of her life was spent imprisoned in her mind and in her real world. I am sad to know that our system let her down horrifically. It's a blessing that she is where she is now. Her new caregivers are loving, kind and generous. But I keep asking myself how can it be better for her? No one wants to represent a person who has difficulty speaking out for themselves. No one wants to investigate why the system let her down. I guess it's a lot of work with little reward. So, for now, I pray for her and I do thank God that He has freed her from the hell within which she was living. At least now she smiles.
Snow Tire and Frozen Daffodil Festival
3 years ago