Survivor Story: Jodi Hanks - "I Survived. I Am a Warrior."
I don't know how to tell the story of my life that doesn't sound unreal.
Six years ago, I was in a relationship that caused my children to be taken away from me and almost ended my life. But after years of abuse, I took a stand – for myself, but mostly for my girls. When I look back at what went on, I remember not knowing what each day would bring. Would he come home in a mood that would rattle the floor?
The very last time he ever touched me, he hit me, pulled me around the house by my hair and I screamed for help, begging for him to stop.
Our girls were in their room; scared, crying, hiding under the bed. I begged him to just let me go! NOOO…you’ll never leave unless you’re in a body bag. I remembered to always fight back, no matter how much worse it made things for me. I asked, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I was crouched down in the corner being hit, kicked, spat on.
He grabbed me by my hair, jerked me up, put his hand around my throat, and choked me until I passed out.
When I woke up, I was tied – HOG-TIED – with the lasso I bought him for his birthday. Rope burns, bleeding, bruises, bite marks, hand and knuckle marks covered my body. I couldn’t breathe, as I laid begging to be untied and let go.
Then I heard a small voice – my child’s voice – in the doorway. “Daddy, please STOP!! Daddy….” –the whole time he was on top of me with a knife to me. I just knew at that moment that my life was over.
If she hadn’t have come to the door when she did, she wouldn’t have a mom alive today. I don’t remember why he untied me. Maybe it was because of her voice, her seeing what kind of monster he really was. The monster he hid from everyone. He was a family man, a volunteer firefighter in the public eye. Inside these walls, he was a monster. No one knew, he hid it well. He made sure every bruise, bitemark, or burn was in a place that was covered by clothing. Sometimes that meant long sleeves in July.
Finally, I was untied, crying, trying to figure out what to do. He took my children, my girls. He put them in bed with him and locked the door. He knew I would not go without my girls. As I sat in the chair, I prayed to God.
I heard his feet hit the floor, so I laid back, pretending to be asleep. That didn’t matter to him. He walked over to my chair, screamed at me, and jerked me onto the floor. “You don’t deserve to sit there, shit sits on the floor,” he said. I sat myself up and said, “You will always remember that your daughter saw what you did!!” That only pissed him off. He hit a glass spittoon off the coffee table, which slammed against me and broke all over me. He climbed back on me and started hitting me from head to toe. He dragged me to the bathroom so I could clean myself up. I couldn’t be too loud or he would hit me again. He laid back down in the bed beside our girls, who were asleep by then. He said, “get yourself clean and get to the living room.”
It was about 3am at that point. Wow, six years have gone by and I know the exact time – 3am. I knew I was done, I knew I would leave. I went into the living room and he slammed the door and locked it. I sat down, waited, and prayed. I really decided that I was going to leave, to take my girls and leave. I grabbed a Walmart bag and put in my wallet and a change of clothes for the girls, then I hid it in one of the bushes outside. I came back in and sat down, barely able to move or breathe. I was having a hard time knowing that we were going to leave. No more putting up with the “I’m sorry, I’ll change, I’d never want the girls to see that again!” He would always send roses, cards, blah! All of that when he knew he was wrong!
Morning came and I was sitting, waiting on his Granny to come get us and take us to counseling. My girls woke up and made it out of the bedroom without waking him up. I remember still today how happy I was to hear those four little feet come down the hall, tiptoeing as if they really knew that Mom was going to get us out
Not long after they woke up, Grandma came. We got out safe. I told Grandma I needed to go to the station. I remember feeling, “OH MY GOD, I’m fixing to take a stand!” I remember walking in, sitting down, and telling the cop that I needed help, that he was going to kill me if I went home. He made a call. It was the call that started ‘my stand’. I was locked inside so he couldn’t get to me. The girls were gone with Grandma and I knew they were safe.
Not long after we made the call, I met the woman who helped me, Tanya Foster. She helped me get away and stay gone and not have to worry about being hurt or abused anymore. I was taking a stand! I told Tanya my story of what had happened the night before, two previous events from a few months before, and the times I’d never told anyone about. She told me not to worry. She said “We will get him for what he did.”
We found him still at our home. He was waiting, I would say, for me to walk in the door. We rode out to my neighbor’s house and I sat there and watched them go inside and bring him out and put him in the back of the car. He was gone, out of the house. He was going to jail, he wouldn’t hurt me anymore. I should have felt safe then, but I really didn’t think I was. I just knew one way or another he would get to me.
We took pictures and wrote down what happened. Since I had said something before, CPS was already involved. Counseling and a drug test were done, I did it all alone. I was terrified my girls would be taken.
A few days went by and I got a call to go to the CPS office, so Tanya met me there. We met in a room with three other women. They told me their decision was to take my girls! My girls!!! They said they were taking them because I didn’t protect them. In my mind, I thought I was protecting them by finally taking a stand; not leaving them there alone with him. I would never take a chance that they’d be hurt. I didn’t want to believe he would have hurt them, but I didn’t know.
My girls were taken from me and put in foster care. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I took a stand, got us away, and was not going back. But my girls were gone! So then the fight of my life began.
I went to court for him and me, and court for my girls. Not being able to talk to or see them was killing me. I took classes, drug tests and had court dates about our case. Then we got the news that he wanted a jury trial to help prove the pictures and evidence we had were lies and that I was a bad person.
At the trial, when it was my turn, I had to get up on that stand and tell my story, tell what had happened in every picture. I was asked questions about all kinds of things. When my turn was over, I walked down and passed him with my head held high. I was taking a stand for all who had ever been abused.
When the jury went back for deliberation, I walked outside, dropped to my knees, cried and thanked God I was alive. Only 15 minutes later, I was told that they had reached their verdict. I couldn’t believe I was about to go in and hear the verdict, after 6 months of fighting him in court and fighting for my girls. In that time I was able to meet all kinds of women who had been through what I went through, and worse, and survived. They were warriors, strong women.
The judge came in, had him stand, and told him, “You have a serious problem and need help.” His sentence was 18 years.18 years!!!
We took a break and came back. He asked to speak to me. I wondered what he could possibly have to say! He told me he was sorry, that he loved me and our girls (who I still didn’t have back yet). He asked me to forgive him for all the wrong he had done to me. I’ll tell you this, I looked at him and said “I forgive you.” That was a moment that I never thought would happen.
As we walked back into the courtroom, they took him back to the jail. Two weeks before my CPS court date, I was able to see the girls in a room with supervision, like I had done something wrong. I was so hopeful they could come home soon!
It was 2011, almost Christmas. I was standing in front of another judge to find out whether I could take my girls home. She read over everything they asked me to do… Stay away, check. Drug test/classes, check. Counseling, check. Parenting classes, check. Got a job, check. Got a house, check. She raised her head and smiled at me. I will never forget her next words: “In all my years of being a judge, I’ve never met a woman who has fought and done all we’ve asked within the year’s time we gave you to have everything completed. You have done it all before six months!”
She had the whole courtroom, including CPS workers, stand and applaud me. I didn’t know how to react. She smiled and said “Merry Christmas, Miss Hanks, your girls can go home!” My girls could come home!!! It had really been the longest six months of my life.
It was finally all over; the girls were coming home and he was being taken away for 18 years. I was speechless! It felt like a dream. Had I just really survived that horrible event in my life? I thanked the judge, crying.
I took the girls home and thought about everything...18 years. I had done it. I had made it and it was the best Christmas ever!
After a few months, we were getting used to a home with no screaming and fighting. One day after the girls went to school, there was a knock on the door. I could see deputies through the window. I thought, “Oh my God, he escaped from jail!” I just knew that’s what they were there for. I opened the door and they both knew what I was thinking. They asked to talk with me and I thought, “Here we go!”
We walked and as I leaned onto the truck, one of the deputies started off with “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this…” I stopped him right there and said “He escaped, didn’t he?” The deputy said, “Jodi, stop, he didn’t escape! We have to tell you that he was found dead in his cell this morning.”
“Wait, what? No, he escaped, this is a joke!” I said. They told me that he really was dead, he had been found hanging in his cell. He was gone, just like that.
After all the hell and storms I went through to make sure we were safe, and he just took his life.
That is my story. I survived. I am a warrior.