A map of Alaska with the Southcentral region highlighted.
Initiative: Council on Domestic Violence
Organization: Abused Women's Aid in Crisis
City: Anchorage
Region: Southcentral
Program Area: Human Services \ Domestic violence
Grants Received:
2013: $71,750  1998: $7,296
2012: $25,000  1997: $5,000
2009: $24,497  1996: $5,000
2003: $258,000  1990: $4,000
2002: $190,000  1986: $1,740
2000: $9,600
1999: $6,745

"We gathered in together to tell our stories, haltingly at first...."

Mission Statement
Abused Women's Aid in Crisis

Abused Women's Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) has the vision of a community with no domestic violence. Everyone has a right to live in a fear-free environment. AWAIC is committed to eliminating domestic violence by helping people to live and love without violence.
The beds at the women's abuse shelter had been made at a prison. That's one of the things I noticed the night my three-year-old son and I straggled in, cold and hungry. The counselor led us to a dim room where women and children lay sleeping on bunk beds lined against the walls. We were given a blanket that smelled of pine disinfectant, and after my son fell asleep, I slipped my hand down the bed frame and traced those carved words with my fingers: the name of the prison, the date. I lay awake all night dimly aware but unwilling to accept that I had been living in a prison of my own.

Every morning we women made breakfast, attended support groups and participated in activities. By late afternoon, time stretched out bleak and colorless until it was easy to slump down in front of the TV and let our minds go blank. We preferred sitcoms, laugh-tracks in the back giving us a false
sense of security, a muted knowledge that somewhere lived families that argued without fear,
fell asleep at night without worrying they might be jerked down the hallway by their hair because
they forgot to turn off the kitchen light.

A photo of new dining room funiture at the AWAIC center.Spacer Image In the shelter, in those rooms filled with women and children, where everything was slower than normal, we learned to relax, soften our shoulders, carry our bodies as if they belonged to us again. We gathered in together to tell our stories, haltingly at first, shame clogging our throats, but after a while, it became easier. Soon we were telling our stories over and over, telling them to get them out, let them go. This wasn't easy. Abuse had filled many of our lives for so long that we didn't know how to function without it. We didn't know who we were, what we wanted from life. We were like children, fumbling and afraid, reaching out and tentatively leaning on each other as we took our first awkward steps.

A photo of a new kitchen at the AWAIC center.Spacer ImageIt was hard learning to give up our pasts and move toward a future so foreign and unfamiliar we had no idea where it might lead. It hurt more than the slaps and broken bones, the burns and bruises. Some weren't ready, and they left to go back to their abusers. The rest of us huddled together and tried, for the second, third or fourth time, to put our foot down and claim, in a wavering and scared voice, that we deserved more. That, damn it, we really and truly deserved more.

Ten years later, I watch my son run through the yard, his long, beautiful legs moving with a grace that brings me to tears. He is smart, this son of mine, and funny and gifted. He lives in a house free of fear and shame, where anger is annoying but not punishing. Sometimes when I drive by the shelter, I say a small prayer of thanks. I remember those evenings spent in the kitchen surrounded by other woman, and how comforting it was to be in that safe and awful place together, all of us so damaged yet so wonderfully, gloriously intact.

Cinthia Ritchie works as features writer at the Anchorage Daily News. She recently finished her MFA and is 2004 Brenda Ueland Prose Award winner and a 2004 William Faulkner Writing Competition finalist. Her fiction, poetry and nonfiction publications include: Water-Stone Review, Gin Bender Poetry Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Sho, Wicked Alice, Poems Niederngasse, Conspire, Ice Floe: International Poetry of the North, Cascadia Review, Sunspinner, Literary Mama, Moondance, Horse Thief's Journal, Stirring, International Journal of Erotica, Dare Magazine, Clean Sheets, Moist, Inside Passages, Ophelia's Muse, Fishnet, Explorations, Girlphoria, Retrozine, Scarlet Letter and Mind Caviar, with upcoming work in Women of the Web Poetry Anthology, Velvet Heat Poetry Anthology, Working Hard Anthology and the winter solstice issue of Ice Floe. She lives in Anchorage with her son.