A Former Abuser

This is a three-minute introduction to a longer documentary I am currently working on. The subject is Wallace Wendell Smith, a former abuser. Enjoy!

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The Stories

Dale Wells, a 358-pound man from Columbia, S.C., was shot five times by his ex-girlfriend four years ago. One bullet went through his chest, one went through his arm, two through his back, and one through his neck. Miraculously, though, he survived.

My research on domestic violence has introduced me to incredible people, people I know I would not have met otherwise. I met three victims of domestic abuse at a domestic violence symposium Columbia College is hosting.

Sylvia J. Allen-Ouzts was in an abusive relationship for years before she decided to act. She filed for a divorce from her husband of 25 years. Saying her then-husband reacted poorly to the idea of a divorce is putting it lightly.

“He said the only divorce for him was a cemetery,“ said Allen-Ouzts, according to an article in The State.

Allen-Ouzts went to police, scared for her life, and was told to go home and lock her doors. Just three hours later, her husband showed up with a gun, shot the lock off of her bedroom door, and then shot her three times. Eleven years after the shooting, Allen-Ouzts is partially paralyzed, almost deaf in her left ear and suffers from chronic pain. Allen-Ouzts and her ex-husband are still quite close because of the family they have together.

Permeco Myers knew her attacker for more than 20 years. The abuse started when her on-again-off-again boyfriend became jealous and constantly accused her of seeing other men. One night, she woke up to him choking her, demanding that she admit to infidelity. When she refused to admit to the lie, her boyfriend began to slap her. He loaded a gun, claiming he was going to have to kill Myers, and forced Myers to open her mouth. He put the barrel of the gun in Myers’ mouth, but did not pull the trigger. He calmed down and apologized for accusing Myers of cheating on him.

Myers spoke to Sistercare, a program in Columbia, S.C. that assists victims of battering, and left the city to avoid her boyfriend. After she obtained an order of protection and her boyfriend was forced to move out of her house, she returned to her home. One day when she returned home after grocery shopping, she saw her boyfriend standing in her living room. He smashed a bottle over her head, slapped her and dragged her into the kitchen. After he taped her hands and grabbed two knives, he forced Myers into the bedroom. He started to move one of the knives across her neck. He stabbed her in the right thigh, then in the chest. When the attack was over and Myers woke up in the hospital, she had sustained two stab wounds to the chest, a stab wound in the thigh, one in the flank and a fractured bone in her left cheek. Her boyfriend was convicted.

 Dave Wells‘ story is the most interesting to me. Usually when men are abused by a female partner, it is because the female is retaliating against abuse she has suffered. However, Wells is a true victim.

Wells was dating his girlfriend for a year before she started exhibiting what Wells calls signs of domestic violence. She became controlling, always wanted to know where he was and used threats to get him to do what she wanted, including threatening to kill his pet pug so he would stay home from work one day. When he returned home from work one day to find pictures destroyed, flat-screen televisions broken and other property damaged, he said it was time for her to go. So, his girlfriend left.

Wells kept in touch with his ex-girlfriend, who moved to New York after Wells kicked her out of his house. Two months after she left, his ex-girlfriend returned to Columbia to surprise him for his birthday. When Wells pulled into the parking lot of the hotel where his ex-girlfriend was staying, she kissed him on the cheek and said she was there to kill him and then herself. She even showed Wells the pawn shop receipt for a .357 Magnum revolver. She didn’t shoot Wells that day, though, and asked him to drive her to the train station so she could go back to New York.

Wells lost touch with his estranged girlfriend after that, and the two didn’t speak again until June of 2007. The conversation was fairly typical, consisting of idle chat about Wells’ golf game and the weather. Wells’ ex-girlfriend then asked him what he was doing. When Wells told her he was taking out the trash, the call was dropped. Once outside, Wells heard a distinctive, “Dale.” He turned and found the barrel of a gun in his face. Wells’ ex-girlfriend reminded him that she was there to kill him and then herself.

Wells was shot five times: once in the chest, once in the arm, twice in the back and once in the neck, all at point-blank range. His ex-girlfriend then shot herself in the head. Today, two bullets are still embedded in Wells’ body.

 The more research I do, the more stories of domestic violence I hear, the more emotionally vested in the project I become. It is a subject that naturally tugs at my heartstrings and being able to attach faces and names to the nightmarish stories just makes the effect even more powerful.

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The Mind of a Former Abuser

Wallace Wendell Smith abused his wife for over 35 years before he was forced to go to classes at the Domestic Abuse Center in Columbia, S.C. He is now a counselor at the Domestic Abuse Center and sees over 50 men a week with the ‘disease’ he had so many years ago, he said in an interview.

As a child, Smith witnessed his father abuse his mother. He recalls seeing his mother with puffy, bruised eyes and hearing his father refer to his mother as “property.”

“I saw my father beat my mother four, five times a week. I couldn’t understand why she would go to bed normal and wake up in the morning with a busted lip and all swollen-eyed. It got so bad for me that I left home when I was 14,” he said.

Smith’s mother died when she was only 48 years old.

A few years after leaving home, Smith went into the Army. Three years after this, when Smith was only 19, he married his first wife, who was 34.

He met her “on the streets,” he said and added that he married her because he thought he could change her.

“You can’t change people,” he said in the interview.

According to Smith, his relationship with his first wife was bad. He even ended up in jail a few times because he abused his wife. He openly admitted that his bad relationship with his first wife also led to his verbally abusing his second wife.

“I told her [Smith’s second wife] that I treated her the way I needed to,” he said. He wouldn’t allow his second wife to “get away” with the things his first wife did. For years, Smith said that he was verbally abusive because of what his wife did. If he yelled at her and called her worthless, it was because she deserved it, he believed then.

He changed when his youngest daughter was 6 or 7 years old.

“There was a gun on the table, and she said that she wished someone would kill me,” Smith said.

He asked about domestic abuse services to get help and went to the Domestic Abuse Center for two years. While there, he grew to understand that he was abusive toward his wife because of something wrong with him, not her.

After attending the Domestic Abuse Center, Smith was offered a position at the center to help others overcome domestic violence. Smith has worked at the center for 25 years now. He wrote a book six years ago called Real Men Don’t Abuse Women, which is a memoir of his childhood and the events that led him to be abusive.

Today, Smith tells women in abusive relationships that they don’t deserve it and that no man has the right to abuse a woman, whether it is physical, verbal, sexual or psychological abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Center is located at 989 Knox Abbott Dr., Cayce, S.C.

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The long awaited videos

Nightmare on Columbia College Drive

Here’s the College Access video. Don’t forget to vote for it!

What’s in a Word…

And here is the autobiography video. Sorry the audio is out of sync in a few places.

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Preparing for the Long Haul

According to the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, in the United States, a woman is beaten by her husband or boyfriend every 12 seconds. The state of South Carolina is ranked No. 6 nationally in the number of women killed by intimate male partners.

It is a terrifying reality that, in a many cases, women are still treated as second-class citizens, but it is a reality that we all must recognize. It is certainly an issue that I will have to come face-to-face with for the remaining projects, which will focus on domestic violence in South Carolina.

I’ve been looking forward to the remaining videos because the topic I’ve chosen to investigate is something of personal interest. The projects will focus on domestic violence, both from the viewpoint of the victim and from the viewpoint of the children. I plan on going into family law, focusing on women’s and children’s defense, so this is the perfect choice for me.

Unfortunately, I know it’s going to be rough. There are laws protecting minors that keep me from interviewing children, even if the video is only for educational purposes, so the only way I can show how domestic violence affects children is by showing the children’s counseling services in Columbia, S.C.

Thankfully, my professor, Claudia Smith Brinson, has quite a few connections around the city due to her time reporting for The State and was able to put me in contact with some people who have agreed to help me with the video. Nancy Barton, the director of SisterCare, the primary service available in Columbia for victims of battering and their children, has agreed to help extensively and has even put me in contact with Joyce Wagster, a country gospel singer and survivor of domestic violence, to help me get the victim’s point of view on domestic violence.

Though setting up interviews and meetings will be problematic enough, these projects require much more research than the previous two. The South Carolina Victim Assistance Network website has provided quite a bit of information. Did you know South Carolina being the second most dangerous place to live in the country in terms of violent crimes? Brinson also wrote an article on a very controversial issue in the state: Cockfighting is a felony but beating your partner is only a misdemeanor.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides a great fact sheet that gives a general overview of domestic violence statistics, but also has a short list of state laws. For instance, Montana, Delaware and South Carolina exclude same-sex relationships from domestic violence laws.

It’s no joke that South Carolina is No. 1 and No. 50 in the worst lists. Maybe if enough people step forward, this can change. I certainly hope to be able to change a few laws when I become a lawyer. After all, it is rather disturbing to think that a rooster ranks above a battered person in South Carolina.

Check back for future blogs on the remaining projects and videos!

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Deadlines, Editing, Reshoots… Oh, My!

 The most recent project for Writing 390A revolved around a video meant to convince students in South Carolina to continue on to higher education. College Access, the group behind the statewide endeavor, is “giving South Carolina college students the chance to share the inside scoop on why it’s important to get an education beyond high school.” This video is just one of many videos created in an attempt to convince high school students to seek a degree.

With the autobiography video, I didn’t run into as many scheduling conflicts. I could film each clip individually and then put them together in iMovie, because I was really only working with myself. The College Access project, though, is a lot more complicated for me. Chelsea Rhodes, the star, plays a college student who, after running out of ideas for a paper she has to complete, comes to the conclusion that college is pointless and that she will never use the knowledge she gains. Annoyed and frustrated with the paper, she decides to take a nap. The next scenes show what can happen if she does choose to drop out of college: her television disappears, her friends are too busy with exams and papers to hang out with her, her mother refuses to speak to her (shown through a very abruptly ended phone call), her teddy bear vanishes, and she is finally shown as homeless, holding a sign that reads ‘Will work for food’. This is where the dream sequence ends and Chelsea wakes up, realizing suddenly that college is worth it. Aside from a more complicated storyline, though, Chelsea is just as busy as I am, so I found myself sneaking in shots when we were both available. The last shot was filmed the evening the video was due to YouTube.

Thankfully, though, scheduling conflicts were the worst I came up against this time around. I had some idea of what to expect in editing and actually knew exactly what I needed to do, so it didn’t take as long in the Mac lab as it did when I was editing the autobiography video. For all of the videos completed for Writing 390A, I will use iMovie to edit the videos and add music, transitions, titles and special effects.

I can honestly say that I’m much happier with the College Access video. The audio is in sync (thankfully) and, while I did have some issues uploading it to the College Access site, I finally got it up. I had to switch Macs at one point because the computer I’d been working on didn’t have an Internet connection when I needed it the most. I don’t know if I can expect to win anything from College Access, but I take pride in my work, which is the important thing. I think so, anyway.

I hope future projects can run this smoothly. I was very pleasantly surprised with that aspect. The video itself is a lot more complicated than the autobiography video, but editing was just much easier. Naturally it took longer to film the College Access video, but I think it’s worth it. IMovie has surprised me once more with what it can do to videos. One important aspect of the College Access video is music. I needed to create the idea that there is a shift in thinking, so I needed to find suspenseful music for the opening and the nightmare sequence and something more peaceful for the ending. I knew what song I wanted for the ending, a clip called Newborn, but I was at a loss as to what I wanted for the suspenseful segments. Luckily, iMovie’s music selection is fairly extensive. I found a song called Borealis that I used for the opening and Dark Drone Suspense for the nightmare. I really think it adds to the overall feel of the video, really showing that there is a progression. I will always wish it could do more, but for these short and simple — relatively simple, anyway–videos, I’m perfectly content with the effects that iMovie has available, such as the transitions and video effects (in this video I used the dream effect). I didn’t use that many effects for the autobiography video, but I finally got to see them in action with the College Access one. The dream effect I used for most of the video turned out really well. As I was searching through the video effects iMovie has to choose from, I didn’t see any that I thought were dramatic enough to really scream that the dream sequence was indeed a dream. Even while I was editing with the dream effect added, I kept thinking that it wasn’t definite enough, that I had really bitten off my than I could chew by deciding to shoot a nightmare. However, when I was able to see the full effect, it really looked great. The hazy, unfocused effect that iMovie applied truly showed that the middle segments of the video were a nightmare.

All in all, I’m very pleased with myself and how this project turned out. Now I’ve got a short break and then I have to delve right into the remaining two video projects. Keep an eye out for future posts and I hope you enjoy the videos!

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