Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tasha Tsiaperas: Frisco Woman Recounts Childhood Sexual Abuse to Help Inmates in Rehab

Frisco woman recounts childhood sexual abuse to help inmates in rehab, May 25, 2015
By Tasha Tsiaperas

Marti Martin spent years being angry at the men who sexually assaulted her as a child. Decades ashamed of the abuse. 

That anger threatened to destroy her marriage — and herself — until she learned how to forgive and move forward. 

Now when Martin, 52, stands in front of a room full of inmates at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, she doesn’t see convicted sex offenders. 

“I see little boys, little boys who were hurt, little boys who were abused,” Martin says. “I don’t see grown men who purposefully wanted to hurt people. I see something that goes a little deeper. There’s something there that caused them to do what they did.” 

The Frisco woman drives 400 miles round trip every other month to share her story with a group of inmates completing a sex offender rehabilitation program.

She preaches to them. She helps them understand the damage they caused. She makes them write letters to the little boys they used to be. 

Martin was nervous the first time she walked into the white prison classroom last year. She watched as about 40 inmates filed in, all wearing white jumpsuits. It felt sterile, and she felt out of place, a suburban housewife visiting hardened criminals who were unsmiling and often covered with tattoos. 

“You’re just thinking to yourself, you’ve got your little handouts, you’ve got your little paper, and you’ve got your Bible, and saying, ‘God, does this really work?’” Martin says. 

As intimidated as she felt by the men in the room, Martin quickly realized that they were more afraid of what she had to say. 

But she’s not there to chastise anyone. She starts each session by sharing her story. 

Crying in her car 

A white cottage. An apartment. A rented room in a house. 

These are the places where Martin remembers being abused as a child. 

After more than 20 years of avoiding her painful past, Martin drove back to those spots after her husband told her their marriage was failing, just months after their wedding.

She sat crying in her car outside the homes, remembering sexual abuse at the hands of trusted men and physical abuse at the hands of her mother. 

She was 7 the first time a man got into bed next to her and slipped his hands into her panties. She was 13 when her stepfather molested her. Though her birth father never touched her inappropriately, he was convicted of raping her older half-sister. He died several years ago. 

Martin believed that men just wanted to hurt others. She says she didn’t even feel safe turning to her physically and verbally abusive mother, who died decades ago. 

She pleaded with God to explain why such horrible things had happened to her. She tried to cope with her abuse by seeking perfection. She wanted a spotless home, career and marriage. 

“I was going to make my imperfect life perfect,” she says. “I didn’t know how to enjoy every day. Every day was a race to move toward something successful.” 

But that pursuit of perfection didn’t erase her pain or her fear of men. Stan, her husband of 22 years, recalls feeling as if he could never satisfy his wife’s expectations. 

“It was obvious that there was something wrong with the past,” he says. “There were times I would give her a little love tap and she’d turn around and give me a right hook.” 

Forgiving herself 

As impossible as it seemed, Martin forgave the men who molested her. She told her family about the abuse. She let go of the grudges that kept her from trusting men. 

But letting go wasn’t enough. Martin also learned to accept and love herself, something she says she was able to do by devoting her life to God. 

For years Martin only shared her story with abuse victims. But she realized that she might be able to prevent more abuse by helping sex offenders learn to love themselves and heal from their own pasts. 

“When you see those guys walk in, I can’t say I don’t see a brokenness,” Martin says. “And I can’t say I don’t feel some compassion for them, because I know they are lost. I know that they are isolated, and I know that they themselves are hurting.” 

Martin tells the inmates how she faced her brokenness. How she prayed and begged God for answers. How she now feels hopeful about her future. 

Then she asks the men to write letters to their younger selves. What would they do differently? Who do they want to become? 

Days after a recent session, Martin nodded and smiled as she flipped through evaluation sheets with inmates’ comments scrawled on them in pencil. 

“I like very much what I heard today,” wrote one. “Wish I could have heard it years ago.” 

“I liked the fact that she actually takes time out of her life to come and talk to us. Also the way she speaks she touches deep down into our soul,” another writes. 

Insight into victims 

“I believe this is her calling. This is why God allowed her to go through all the things that she went through, so he can use her for his purpose,” says Vida Davenport, who founded a Fort Worth rehabilitation center for recently released inmates, where Martin sometimes speaks. 

Martin’s work stands out because she gives the inmates insight into the effect that sexual abuse has on the victim. That’s one reason Gov. Greg Abbott honored Martin with a statewide volunteer service award last month. 

“There’s a tendency in their thought process to think of those they’ve offended against as less than people, sex objects,” says Joseph Bon-Jorno, head of the state prison’s sex offender rehabilitation program. “It brings to life that these are real-life people. Somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s son. … It puts a face on what their offending has done to people’s lives.” 

Most of the sex offenders at Huntsville’s Goree unit attend Martin’s voluntary three-hour sessions, and she believes that many of them were abused as children. If they can address how they were hurt and can heal, they can start to change the thinking that led them to assault others. 

“To me, the goal is not to beat you up for what you did, but to pull you out and understand that hurting people hurt people,” Martin says. “It’s really to get them to go back and understand their past.” 

She knows her ministry is unusual. Most people want to lock up sex offenders — especially those who have assaulted children — and throw away the key. But Martin reminds people that most of these men eventually get out of prison and have to reintegrate into society. 

“I got news for you. They get out and they’re coming to a neighborhood near you,” she says. “If they don’t deal with their past, that means they still have things working in them that are unhealthy. 

“If they don’t get worked with, we’re dealing with the same little boy who committed the crime when he was sent away,” says Martin, who has no plans to stop her prison program. “That’s why I can’t sleep at night. And that’s why I have to go do what I do.”