The violence started the day after her wedding. Roxana was 21 years old, five months pregnant, and “extremely sheltered” when she married Miguel. She thought the black eyes, the “beat downs,” and lying on the floor being kicked were “part of marriage.”
“Nobody told me anything in regards to ‘this is something you don’t accept, you don’t put up with,'” she says. “I felt helpless. I didn’t defend myself because I had never hurt anyone before. I was not going to start now.”
Roxana, who was born in Mexico City, “had everything” growing up in Brownsville. She married Miguel (a U.S. citizen) in Monterrey, and the couple settled in Mexico. Five years into the marriage, they moved to San Antonio. Roxana was optimistic that the violence would end with the move, because her husband would be “afraid of the police.”
In fact, it was Roxana who was afraid: too frightened of what Miguel would do to her if she tried to get help.
After seven years of marriage, Roxana had a young daughter and an infant son. She and her children were at the home of her daughter’s classmate. Roxana was visiting with the classmate’s mother when the woman’s husband walked in. Immediately, Roxana was on alert, waiting for the yelling to start. Instead, the couple greeted one another with ordinary kindness and pleasantries.
“Is he always like that?” Roxana asked her friend. “Does he ever throw things?” That afternoon, for the first time, Roxana let an outsider know what was going on in her home. Her friend impressed upon her that Roxana’s experience was not typical, nor something she had to endure. After weeks of discussion with her friend, Roxana decided to tell her mother what was going on. She called her mom in Mexico City and told her to sit down. Telling her mother was “humiliating, to tell that you’ve been restrained when you were always so independent, [that you’ve] become nothing.”
“Give me five minutes,” her mother said. “I’ll call you back.”
The phone rang minutes later. Roxana’s uncle had purchased three plane tickets for Roxana and her children to get to Mexico. Roxana told Miguel she was leaving and “got on a plane and didn’t look back.”
She stayed in Mexico for a year. Miguel visited every two months and “behaved” on his visits. On his last visit, Roxana’s “heart changed.” He was her children’s father, and she “felt love again.” She agreed to return to the United States.
Miguel bought the family a beautiful new house. The day of Roxana’s return was “a honeymoon day.” The future was bright.
The next day, he started throwing things. “It got pretty bad,” Roxana says.
She called the police a few times. She filed reports. Occasionally, Miguel “got locked up for a day” but always got out. Other times, the responding officers just told him to take a walk and cool off and advised Roxana to spend the night somewhere else.
She left for the second time a year later. This time, she stayed in San Antonio, because being separated from her father was hard on Roxana’s daughter. Roxana supported herself and her children by working as a telephone operator for women’s clothing catalogs.
Six months later, she was back in Miguel’s home. She wanted the marriage to succeed and was willing to change whatever she had to about herself to make that happen.
Things never got better. Roxana’s life was a series of “rough, stressful hostility and tense moments.” Occasionally, there were “sparks of happiness,” but they only lasted “five or ten minutes.” Roxana never could figure out what Miguel’s triggers were.
The layout of the house played into Miguel’s pattern. The children’s rooms were on one end, with the master bedroom and bath on the other. All of the beatings took place in Roxana’s bedroom or bathroom. While the children might see Miguel “drag [her] by the hair” through the house, or might hear him tell her to “wait and see what [he has] for [her],” they could hide in their rooms while he administered the worst of his physical abuse.
In April 2007, her son (now school-aged) got into a scuffle on the playground at school. It was a routine incident as these things go, but Miguel “lost it.” He went into the boy’s room and closed the door.
Roxana knew she had to act. She opened the door. Miguel told her not to challenge her authority and—just as Roxana had hoped—left the boy to come for her. Roxana decided this would be the last time, that she would defend herself from this moment on.
Miguel was wearing steel-toed boots. He kicked her legs. He put his feet on top of hers so that he could punch her without her falling backward. When she started to lean, he grabbed her shirt to hold her up. He caught the gold chain around her neck. She told him to stop before the chain cut her, because if he did too much visible damage, “it would be bad for him.”
At one point, Miguel stepped off Roxana’s feet, giving her a chance to jump. “I was like a ninja in the air!” she exclaims. “He didn’t expect me to defend myself. He was just walking backward.”
The fight moved through the house. Miguel grabbed a bag of fruit off the counter and used it to hit Roxana. She managed to get to the house phone and called 911. The line rang once and went dead. Miguel had pulled the phone out of the wall. Roxana grabbed for her daughter’s cell phone, but Miguel got it from her and threw it out of reach. The children came out of their rooms crying, begging their father to stop. He calmed down and went into their rooms to apologize and smooth things over.
Roxana didn’t know it, but her one-ring phone call to 911 was sufficient to trigger a police response. While Miguel was off with the children, Roxana saw a police officer standing outside her glass front door. He asked if she had called 911 and if there were children at home. Miguel came out of the bedroom and was immediately handcuffed and arrested. Roxana pressed charges.
When asked why that day was different, why she finally fought back, Roxana answers, “I gave up the dream, and I gave up being afraid. It didn’t matter how many times he hit me. I was going to leave and not look back.” In part, she acted to protect her son, who had landed in Miguel’s crosshairs that day. But Roxana also had noticed changes in her daughter. The little girl was extremely sensitive to Miguel’s moods and acted obsequiously and submissively to appease him. Roxana knew that children learn by example. She didn’t want her son to grow up “to be the man who beats his wife” or her daughter to grow up “to be submissive.”
After Miguel was taken away, Roxana put a blanket on the floor. She piled her and her children’s clothes on the blanket, folded up the corners, and used that make-shift suitcase to carry their possessions out of the house.
As luck would have it, Roxana had money in the bank that day. The couple’s income tax refund had recently arrived in the mail, and Roxana had deposited the check in their bank account. She knew the money was there, but Miguel did not. Ordinarily, the couple spent their refund proceeds as soon as they received them. It was remarkable that the funds were still there. “If I take it all,” Roxana thought, “I have to pay it back.” She took half the money and left the rest for Miguel to use when he was released.
Although she begged them not to, Miguel’s family posted his bail. He was released from jail after a month. Roxana was working as a special education aide in a local public school at the time, and she and her children had been living with one of her co-workers. Roxana got a call from the jail, informing her that her abuser had been released. She knew she had to move somewhere Miguel couldn’t find her, and that after a month, it was time to stop “imposing” on her friend. She had enough money to pay for a small apartment. She and her children had just three pieces of furniture. “It was great,” says Roxana.
Per the advice of her pastor, Roxana waited a year—to let the anger dissipate—before filing for divorce. In the meantime, the children were thriving, and Roxana was doing well at work. She had a hunch that students with autism, developmental delays, and other communication impairments might be able to communicate through sign language. Roxana tested her theory by teaching an autistic student signs for colors. When she saw that he could identify colors in response to her cues, she knew her idea had merit. She decided to study American Sign Language (ASL) and enrolled in night classes at San Antonio College.
She was making $1,100 per month in her public school position. She found a rental house for $550 a month near her workplace. An apartment move to get her daughter into a different high school district followed. The commute from the new apartment to her workplace was taking a toll, and Roxana felt guilty leaving her children—now ages 15 and 10—alone while she attended classes at night. After a lot of prayer, Roxana decided to make her education and career more of a priority. She quit her job and signed up to be a substitute teacher, going from full-time employee/part-time student to full-time student/part-time employee.
The new arrangement did not provide enough income for Roxana to keep up with the family’s expenses. She was late with rent one month. The apartment complex told her that if she was late again, she would get an eviction notice. Roxana could foresee the inevitable: She and her children would lose their apartment. She visited the Women’s Empowerment Center at San Antonio College, where she got a list of agencies that might be able to help her. Roxana called every number on the list. None of the agencies could provide housing, and because it was late in the year, none of the agencies had rental assistance money available. One of the agencies suggested she contact SAMMinistries, which was not on Roxana’s list.[hr]
SAMMinistries is an interfaith ministry whose mission is to help the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless attain self-sufficiency by offering—with dignity and compassion—shelter, housing, and services. The ministry began in the winter of 1981, when a homeless man who had frozen to death was found on the grounds of First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Antonio. In response, church volunteers began to shelter and care for the growing number of homeless individuals in the church gymnasium. By 1983, the program had gained financial assistance of several downtown churches and was incorporated as San Antonio Metropolitan Ministries, Inc. Today, SAMMinistries has a staff of more than 80 and is supported by thousands of volunteers who help families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
According to SAMMinistries data, on any given day, San Antonio’s homeless population consists of approximately 3,200 individuals. However, nearly 50% of San Antonio’s population is living with no savings, putting them at risk of becoming homeless. Like Roxana, more than half of all homeless individuals in San Antonio cite loss of income as their reason for homelessness.
Through its continuum of care, SAMMinistries meets individuals where they are. It provides homelessness prevention services such as rental assistance, utility assistance, and supportive services to help families remain in their homes. SAMMinistries also provides transitional housing at individual homes in San Antonio and at the agency’s flagship Transitional Living and Learning Center (TLLC), a residential facility that provides up to 40 homeless families safe housing and supportive services to put them on the path to self-sufficiency.
On the one-off suggestion, Roxana called SAMMinistries and began the intake process. On October 24, she was served with an eviction notice. She had until the end of the month (which fell on a Sunday) to vacate the apartment. If SAMMinistries could not help her, Roxana and her children would be living in her car. SAMMinistries called her in for a second interview, and the intake process continued. On Friday, two days before her eviction, Roxana got called in for a third interview. At that meeting, she was handed keys to a room at TLLC.
In the TLLC program, Roxana and her children would be sharing a single furnished bedroom and bathroom. Roxana re-homed the family dog, put the family’s furniture in a friend’s garage, and moved into the facility. “All material things [were] not important at that time,” says Roxana. “You have to be wiling to let everything go.”
In the weeks leading up to their imminent homelessness, Roxana was too focused on overcoming the immediate crisis to give it any context. Only after she arrived at TLLC did she come to terms with the reality of her situation. Until then, Roxana says, “I thought homeless people were not me. It can’t be me.” More painful for Roxana was the fact that “it was my kids too. It was not just me.”
Despite her laudable motives, and regardless of how reasonable her decisions appear from the outside, Roxana blamed herself for the family’s homelessness: “I had made the decision to become a student, to have a career. I gave up everything.”
When Roxana opened the door to the family’s new home, “everything shined. There were new sheets, new blankets, new kitchen equipment.” Roxana thought to herself, “I am not deserving of this because of what I have done to my family.” She fell into depression.
After a few weeks, Roxana’s outlook started to improve. TLLC residents are “from all different backgrounds, completely living in community.” To Roxana, it was “wonderful; the best experience [she] could have.” In addition to its own bedroom and bathroom, each family at TLLC has its own food cupboard and refrigerator in the facility’s communal kitchen. The arrangement gave Roxana a “sense of privacy” and a feeling that she had her own things. At the same time, the kitchen was a place for families to “collide” and “start conversations.” Roxana had the chance to “listen to others’ testimony” and to “see that I was not alone. We were all in the same boat. We were all equal.”
Determination overtook Roxana. She wanted to “make things right.” TLLC’s supportive services—including financial education, tuition support, and mock job interviews—and the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations made possible by donors and volunteers made her feel “pampered, supported, and encouraged.” The message Roxana received was “you are going to be fine. We are going to take care of you.”
Roxana was committed to stay at TLLC for the duration of the two-year program and to doing all of the work her case manager prescribed. In accordance with the program requirements, she put 30% of her income into savings, to create a nest egg to use when she transitioned out of TLLC. A few months shy of the two-year mark, Roxana was called into a meeting with a TLLC staff member. Roxana was told that SAMMinistries was starting a new housing voucher program, and that she had been selected as the first recipient of funds. She and her family could move out of TLLC and into their own apartment. Roxana was not ready to leave. She gave thanks for the offer but asked the staff member to find another resident to benefit.
In her mind she was not ready to leave, but in her heart she knew it was time. Over the next few days, she walked through the halls of TLLC, with tears streaming down her face and her hands running along the walls that had formed her home. Roxana came to recognize that “God conditions you to go to the next place. You go from one position of grace to the next, which is even better.” Roxana asked for a follow-up meeting with the staff member. She told him she was ready to move on.[hr]
A Better Life
Today Roxana and her family live in a three-bedroom apartment on the near North Side. Her daughter, Daniela, is 20 years old and in her second year at San Antonio College, studying to become a sign language teacher. Her son, Caesar, is 14, a high school freshman, and member of the varsity wrestling team. Roxana is working as a licensed ASL interpreter and is weeks away from completing her B.A. in psychology at Texas A&M University—San Antonio. She plans to pursue a master’s degree.
She has forgiven Miguel.
Roxana’s message to ACMB readers is that “all women have capability. Any woman has the strength to look within her herself and know what she truly wants for herself, her kids, and her marriage.” As Roxana has seen, “there’s never a dead end. God always finds a way out, and it’s a better one.”[hr]
How You Can Help
On average, it costs just $532 to prevent a family from becoming homeless. Even a modest contribution to an organization like SAMMinistries goes a long way toward keeping families in their homes and sparing them the trauma and turmoil of homelessness.
SAMMinistries is one of hundreds of local nonprofit organizations participating in The Big Give S.A. On May 5, 2015, anyone can make an online gift to SAMMinistries or any participating organization. All donations on May 5 give organizations the opportunity to earn matching funds and prize incentives. This means that your gift has the capacity to leverage additional funding. You can give by smart phone, tablet, or computer. The minimum donation is $10. There is not a maximum donation. [hr]
If You Need Help
If you are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, call SAMMinistries at (210) 979-6188.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, call Family Violence Prevention Services, Inc. at (210) 733-8810. [hr]