Danielle Richardson from Charleston, SC used her tragic childhood of domestic violence to fuel her into being an empowering author and domestic violence victim advocate. Using her trials and doing the work to heal herself and family has allowed her to fight against domestic violence in the state of South Carolina, and the compassion that other victims seek to get out of or over their situations too.
What was your first experience of domestic violence?
Me, my brothers, and my mom grew up in a domestic violence household. My brothers’ father moved my mother far away from her family and friends, this was around the time I was four years old.
You remember the abuse at the age of four?
Oh yeah, it was very scary. She would get jumped on and beat. My brothers’ dad was very controlling; my mom couldn’t go certain places or wear certain things. He had very strict rules for my brothers and I too. We lived in fear, she was very nervous and always making sure everything was perfect. He was the type of person to always find something to be angry about.
Was she ever able to leave?
They were together for 13 years and the abuse went on that entire time– in fact, it got worse once the crack epidemic got started back in the 80’s because he would drink and do crack cocaine. One time he held a double barrel shotgun to my mother. I called my aunt and told her what he did and she talked to my mom. This led to her putting him out. Then she got into a relationship with a white man who did the same thing to her. After six months she put him out and my brothers’ dad came back. Maybe six months to a year later he stabbed her to death 38 times; she was killed June 18, 1991.
How did the abuse escalate to murder?
It happened at two in the morning. My mom came home from her third job around 11:30 pm and my stepdad was at a party down the row from us. The guys were jeering him about my mom dating a white man. They said “oh you let your women be with a white man, living in your house, wearing your clothes…” He was the type of man who couldn’t takes jokes so he came home and started beating on her.
This night was really bad. I always slept light to listen out for my mom. As kids, we found ways to open the door (even though it was locked from the outside) so we could rescue our mom if we needed to. By the time I was able to get the hinges off the door, my mom was thrown into my room door as she was trying to run away. She was bloody and he was on top of her. At that time I didn’t realize he was stabbing her. I went berserk fighting him and trying to pull him off of her. My mom was about 115lbs and he was close to 300lbs.
My brothers and I started to fight him off of her. Things were so bad we created our own safety plan because we knew things would get worse one day. We didn’t have a phone in our house, so the two little boys knew one need to go through the front and the other through the back door and knock on our neighbor’s door so they would come and help; that’s what we did. We finally got her out from under him, but we had to get him out of the house because the ambulance wouldn’t come in. The policy was they can’t come in if the suspect is still inside.
My mom was bleeding, and one of the neighbor’s sons who was home from the military gave her CPR while the ambulance waited downstairs. Once the police came they were able to wrestle my stepdad and take him out of the house.
I was there holding her hand, and I knew she passed while the EMTs were working on her. Before she passed I was singing to her and making promises to take care of my brothers and stuff like that. She said “I know he didn’t mean to do it, I forgive him for what he did.” Once the ambulance came in I couldn’t go back inside the room. There was a tree in front of our house and I thought I saw my mother there. I ran and hugged the tree as if everything was okay. Then I was pulled away from it and placed in the back of the police car with my brothers.
Did her murderer go to jail?
Yes, he went to jail. Three days later when he came down off his high he didn’t even know he killed my mother. He didn’t even know why he was in jail. Two weeks later he died in jail from a massive heart attack.
What happened to you and your brothers?
We moved to my grandmother’s house, and my grandmother was diabetic and just had her legs amputated so she wasn’t in a position to take care of us. She was also depressed about my mother’s death. My mom died in June, she died in September.
Our family split us up. My youngest brothers, who were 7 and 8 years old at the time, went to Virginia with my uncle. My brother, Michael, who was 13 years old, went to live with his dad then with his dad’s parents, but by December they died and he was left homeless and floating around. I went to Columbia, NC, with one of my aunts; I was 16 years old.
My brother began to rob places so he could go to jail and have a place to sleep. One time I came home and he was sleeping on my mother’s grave. He said he’d rather be in jail than in the streets so I would know where he was and safe. He eventually went to jail for 13 years, but he’s out now, married, and a preacher in North Carolina.
My youngest brothers were abused by my uncle because their father killed his sister. He would physically, verbally, and sexually abuse them. My youngest brother was affected and when he moved back to South Carolina with a roommate he had a flashback and stabbed his roommate to death. He’s in jail on the mental ward side, and has to take eight or nine pills a day. Some days I talk to him he’s fine, other days he’s out of it. He’s only 30 years old now.
Once you were old enough to date, did you find yourself in abusive relationships?
No, in fact it was kind of like I was the abuser. My love life has been short lived because when it comes to relationships I have short patience. I’m not going to tolerate a lot of things because I don’t want to be put in a position like my mom. If we get into a disagreement I’m going to hit first, yell first, or just walk away because I don’t want to ever be in a position where I’m being abused or someone has control over me.
That’s why I’m still single now because I never want to be in that kind of situation. I can’t take people yelling at me. I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) which stems from growing up in that situation. My nerves are bad, so yelling and screaming like that doesn’t work for me. Hopefully, I’ll get to the point in my personal life that I can have a future relationship, be married, and live in the same household. My number one goal if I ever get into a relationship is to never be like my mom.
She was the sweetest, kindest person you’d ever meet, and my brothers’ dad completely took advantage of her. She’d make excuses for him like “he didn’t mean to do it,” “it’s alright,” “don’t worry about it.” Even a few months before she died I was telling her she couldn’t keep going through this. Going through that took away my childhood.
Tell me about your advocacy and how you got started?
After my kid’s dad died, I started looking into counseling for me and my kids because his death was pretty devastating. I didn’t understand because after my mother died I didn’t go see anybody or talk about it to anyone. It became a family effort to heal together. I wanted to heal so I could talk to my kids about it because they were asking me about death and stuff, but I didn’t really know how to answer them. We were crying all the time; we needed the help.
I was introduced to an advocate who also started the Homicide Support Group for the South Carolina chapter of the national organization. When I started going to the support group it helped so much because I was able to meet people that went through the same thing I did. I also started going to Ebenzer AME church and things started to get better.
One of my counseling leaders who is also the head victim advocate for Suffolk County, Easter LaRoache, asked me if I wanted to speak at a domestic violence workshop. When I did it I was so relieved and enjoyed people asking questions. A couple of people came to me privately telling me what they were going through and asking for help. I knew in my heart this was something I wanted to do. Domestic violence victims felt comfortable talking to someone who’d been through the same thing before because I understood how they felt and didn’t judge them.
From there I wrote a book, God Heard My Cries, which talks about my journey. This has opened up ways for me to advocate through telling my story. I recently started a Facebook group called Goodbye Abuse Ministry, it’s another space to tell our stories and support each other. In South Carolina, we’re training advocates so we can work with women all around the state on this.
I’ve teamed up with Real Mad, and organization of men against domestic violence in the Charleston area. We’re really pushing for advocacy in South Carolina because the state used to be number one, now number two in the country, for women being killed by domestic violence.
What was the response to your book?
I started writing the book as therapy, but my brother talked me into publishing it to help others. My book has become relatable. I just had a lady inbox me because her husband bought my book at one of my events and she liked the name of it. After it sat on the counter for a long time she began to read it. The woman realized she was going through so much already in her past like I went through and it helped her to get out of it. She told me ‘thank you’ because some of the things she was coping with she didn’t know how to get through it. Now she feels so much better. The book is also nominated for a 2016 Best Independent Book award for the Geecheeone Magazine, a local magazine in Charleston.
I have another book, Becoming A Phenomenal Woman, coming out spring 2016. It’s about the steps I had to take after everything I’ve been through in my past to become the woman I am today. My brothers’ dad used to call us ugly and make us feel like we weren’t enough, so it’s about becoming a women, accepting and loving myself, and going from that place to where I am now — a positive space.
In my first book I was able to forgive and I even wrote a letter to my brothers’ father to be at peace with everything that he put us through. That brought our family back together because there was a riff between us. Over the years they didn’t want to admit their brother killed our mother. Now we’re able to be close again.