An inside look
American Comprehensive Counseling Services’ Debbie McBride, who teaches sociology and psychology at the Western Nevada College Fallon campus, is also a counselor for those incarcerated at the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.
McBride explained she wanted to give her clients a voice, especially given October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Inmates shared about their experiences and insights in a domestic violence and anger management class recently.
Anthony Gray, who mentioned his one-month-old baby, said during the class that he has been in and out of incarceration for years and attended domestic violence classes from 2009-2010. He has been in this class of McBride’s for over three weeks.
“I’m a very tense person at times,” he admitted.
Gray explained how ACCS and McBride have taught him to approach things differently, instead of putting more “static” into a situation — how to get a better response instead of escalating the hostility. He said McBride teaches reflection and building a foundation, and to practice steps to be able to calm one’s self down.
“I don’t like what I (have done) in the past,” he said, adding those who attend the classes learn they have to analyze themselves. “I’d have to catch myself. The anger, it’s still there. But it’s if you check your anger. It’s not letting your anger override your actions, give you an excuse to hurt somebody.”
Joe Zeman commented he hasn’t had any direct charges for spousal battery, mostly drugs.
“But my past with my wife was pretty tumultuous,” he said. “I never hit her, or anything like that, but we argued bitterly.”
Zeman described how he has been attending classes for three months, taking every program ACCS has with the WCSO detention center — classes led mostly by McBride. He said he views the courses (which involve a completion certificate and potentially days off a sentence) as a positive outlet and somewhere to go.
“Every time I leave here, I feel a lot better about me,” he said.
Tobias Stewart said he thinks one of the best parts of the classes is that McBride gives them time and respect, letting them speak freely. He said if they have a lot to say, she lets them talk it out instead of cutting them short or moving on to another topic or task.
“We may not all be friends, but we’re each other’s peers,” Stewart said. “You’re not just alone in this sea of ‘you’re a domestic violence batterer’ … One of the most interesting things I’ve found is more than half of the guys in here aren’t the batterers. We get battered. We protect ourselves, and then all of a sudden, we’re criminals.”
ACCS director and counselor Walt Dimitroff was also present for this class and mentioned the issue is often multigenerational, these men having witnessed extremely difficult situations when they were children.
Dane Fraley agreed, saying how they’re taught these actions as youngsters and now getting punished for that.
“You know what it’s like to be on the end of observing this violence, or substance abuse, this chaos,” Dimitroff said to the group, adding he’ll hear them say how much they don’t want it to be like that with their own family. “Then you see it happening, and you’re trying to stop it somehow, trying to get a handle on it, but for some reason it doesn’t work out.”
Simeon Reese posed to Dimitroff, what steps should be taken?
The director emphasized that first one must be substance-free, then self-aware. He said that often planning ahead of time goes into it and planning with the significant other.
One inmate agreed, observing every time a situation had exploded was when his partner didn’t have her dope or had just done dope.
Reese, 22 and a former Marine, said often the people involved are both victims, but the aggressor is seen as the stronger of the two. He said sometimes a partner will threaten to call the police if you don’t do something or don’t stay, and that it’s also difficult to leave someone who says they love you.
“I know what to look for in a relationship now,” Reese said. “I know what not to do, like you’ve said; build a foundation, depend on myself instead of someone else.”
Fraley said it’s hard to realize you don’t have control over everything, only yourself.
“Isn’t that the hardest thing to do though, find your peace and own it,” Dimitroff emphasized. “Then make changes so you don’t return back.”
Another former service member Rob Hernandez said he would be constantly trying to start something with his partner because any calm didn’t feel right.
“This all feels normal to me,” he said.
Corey Booth said he was doing meth and “running the streets” when he entered the detention facility in late April. He said since he entered the ACCS program he has learned honesty, willingness, open-mindedness, and has dug deep to look at his life and the things he has done to other people including his son’s mother.
Booth said what hurt the most was not wanting his son growing up in a broken home, and that was one of the things that kept them coming back to each other. He continued that to be a good father he must be selfless but also put himself first; once he has a solid foundation within himself, he can work on getting his son back into his life.
“It’s domestic violence month, and my heart goes out to all the battered women and men — because it works on both sides,” Booth said. “ACCS, they provide co-occurring (disorders), parenting, anger management and substance abuse classes. And all four of these play such a big role in our everyday living. Especially people (who) are in jail.”
Brandon Henley discussed how having someone listen is humanizing.
“We’re all humans. We all make mistakes,” he said. “As soon as we make one, or get caught, we’re marked as criminals. A lot of the reason why I come to class is it makes me feel a lot less like a criminal and more like a normal person (who) made a mistake. The family thing, we all search for that.”
Henley added he wants to move on, move away from this life. Fraley also touched on how even the class groups become a kind of family.
“I have guilt. I have remorse,” Booth acknowledged. “But I can’t continue living my life with that, so I kind of just give it to god, say, ‘OK, that’s the past’ and live for today. Be a better father for my son, grandson for my grandmother.”
Dimitroff shared how one reason ACCS exists is to transition group members into a community program, see some of the same faces and receive similar support.
“What typically happens is this becomes a distant object in the rearview mirror,” he said. “You get more and more used to higher levels of violence and then somebody dies, somebody gets severely hurt. And nine times out of 10 that’s a woman. We have the highest death rate almost in the U.S.”
Gray said he would love to be on the other side of the room, taking pictures, interviewing or counseling someone.
“You being here does not define you as a person,” McBride encouraged.
Gray added the classes have helped a lot, and many attendees chimed in agreeing that McBride is the reason for that, and they can see ACCS is trying to help.
Stewart explained how it always feels like everybody’s against you. Others have said they like how McBride doesn’t address them as inmates but clients.
“That’s the biggest difference with Debbie,” Stewart said, “she’s not against us.”