Remembering Crystal: Life’s Lessons on Escaping the Abuse of a Powerful Man


Tall Ship by Carole May

Six years ago, I was contemplating my career. The judge had successfully blackballed me. My safety within the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) meant tapping into my professional network wasn’t prudent.

Why was I being foreclosed from leveraging my expertise and education? What was I here to do?

A story on the evening news grabbed my attention. Tacoma’s Chief of Police David Brame was responding to allegations of domestic violence made by his estranged wife Crystal Judson Brame. His words were textbook PR, but the menacing look on his face revealed simmering murderous rage about to erupt. Crystal was clearly in imminent danger. The next afternoon he fatally shot Crystal before turning the gun on himself in front of their children.

Carolyn JessopYears later, after meeting Carolyn Jessop and realizing she had escaped just days before Crystal was shot, I wondered what made the difference. Why were we spared and Crystal wasn’t?

Lesson One: Recognize “the Look”

When I read Carolyn’s book Escape, I realized that we had each become expert in the fine art of reading the warning signs of violent abuse. We had finely tuned our exit strategies and survival skills.

 fg-2009-lakeside-cottage-aLesson Two: Find a Safe Hideout

Carolyn Jessop made connections through her mother with Dan Fisher, a dentist who operated a safe haven for FLDS lost boys. His daughter Jolene was recently back from dental school. This gave Carolyn a safe haven with a solid backup. I had a bar exam buddy who offered me sanctuary at her home deep in the mountains. Fortunately, this was before GPS, and the judge would never be able to find her home.

Your hideout must be a place no one would think to look for you. Ideally, it will have an exceptional security system and will be owned by someone savvy about protecting you. If the person abusing you is a member of law enforcement, you will not likely be welcome at domestic violence shelters. Besides, he probably knows where they are.

Lesson Three: Take Threats Seriously

Pit Bull abusers delight in describing in detail how they will extract revenge. When they realize the relationship is, in fact, over, they carry out those threats. You may never be safe until he is dead.

Where are you most vulnerable? What would cause you to let down your guard? How can he get to you? Before she left, Carolyn Jessop spent three years making contingency plans for every possible way Merril could get to her through her kids. She made unbelievable sacrifices including submitting to marital rape and going on welfare to keep her kids safe.

Since I didn’t have children, my vulnerability was my career. I jettisoned my professional credentials and network and worked as a telemarketer. I was glad to have the job. I have relocated across country twice and entered an ACP. I don’t use credit cards and have accepted the restrictions not having a credit rating have placed on my lifestyle. I have severed connections with people dear to me.

 The Dance by Henri MatisseLesson Four: Make Friends with His Enemies

Every powerful abusive person has made enemies who are equally powerful. These people may protect you, but you must realize political alliances can be fluid. Unfortunately, those being paid to protect Crystal Judson Brame were more inclined to suck up to David’s political power. This included the local domestic violence shelter. I was stunned to hear a prominent local shelter director tell me that she would have no qualms selling Crystal out to protect her other clients and that she had sold out wives of wealthy local executives to raise funds for her shelter. It was her way of explaining why the domestic violence system had failed to protect Crystal and me.

Carolyn Jessop was fortunate to find Dan Fisher who brought Utah’s attorney general Mark Shurtleff into her protection circle. I was fortunate that several prominent members of the state bar association and the local police chief were aware of the judge’s abusive tendencies and had their own fluid political reasons to support my cause.

We needed those alliances because Merril Jessop and the judge had armies of people ~ including my own attorneys ~ eager to enable their abuse to garner access to power. I found myself unwelcome at my hideout. I was devastated to discover the legal system I passionately believed in was unbelievably corrupt. It is equally painful to be abandoned or betrayed by family, friends, and colleagues.

You may be similarly called upon to make extraordinarily difficult choices in order to survive. Pride may become a luxury you can’t afford. You may have to do things you have vowed you’d never do. You may have to jettison possessions and a lifestyle dear to you. You may be required to make tremendous sacrifices in every aspect of your life.

 fg-2009-quilts-fLesson Five: Accept that Freedom Isn’t Free

In an ideal world, mechanisms would be in place to provide you safe exit. There would be a convenient safe house that would accept your children and pets where you could hide out for the duration of your transition. A lucrative job would be offered to you. The court system would be resistant to allowing itself to be manipulated as an instrument of abuse. Abusive cops, judges, clergy, and medical professionals would be held accountable by their peers. The general public would stop blaming the victim. The person threatening your life would be imprisoned for the remainder of his life. Your career would sail forward. You’d meet a new love who would protect and cherish you.

These things happen in romance novels. They don’t happen in real life. We all like to think of Tina Turner without considering the years she spent rebuilding her career or the enormous sacrifices she made to be free of Ike. We think of Carolyn Jessop’s best selling book and upcoming movie without considering the years she spent planning her escape and time she was on welfare.

Lesson Six: Perceive the Welfare System as Your Angel Investor

Those of us who have been reared to be self-sufficient and who take pride in our careers find it extraordinarily difficult to admit we need help. However, few people are able to exit the toxic environment of an abusive relationship without sustaining substantial damage to our psyche and self-esteem. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal depression are common.

Therapists and domestic violence experts have told me that the judge’s plan to kill me and “get away with it” was to get me to kill myself. The government keeps statistics on the murderous end of physical abuse, but they don’t keep statistics on the murderous end of emotional abuse: suicide.

The welfare system is there to provide us with a safety net. I was fortunate to have someone suggest early on that I perceive it as my angel investor. The day I was told that I was too profoundly disabled by PTSD and depression to work was one of the darkest days of my life. However, the support and resources available to me have saved my life. I have learned to leverage them and to be grateful they exist.  And, I have learned I have to raise hell when they don’t.

Harbor Lady by Carole MayLesson Seven: Adopt a New York State of Mind

Maya Angelou is correct. Whining alerts a brute that a victim is in the neighborhood. I was very fortunate to be in the audience the first day Iyanla Vanzant was on Oprah. The next season, I was invited back for all her appearances. We are both former attorneys and enormously spiritual people who have experienced abuse. I have read all her books and found great comfort and wisdom in them. But, she delivered her three most powerful lessons to me personally during the taping of those Oprah shows:

  • You are not a victim. You are a person who has experienced abuse. You will survive it and move on with your life. It will shape you, but it will not define who you are as a person.
  • You are not broke or poor. You are merely temporarily short of funds. Poverty is a state of mind that will keep you poor. Abundance is a state of mind that will make you wealthy.
  • You keep looking for your gifts to come in a red box and don’t open those in the green box. ( It took me almost a decade to understand this lesson.)

There will be times when you feel so overwhelmed that you will wish someone would just pick you up and carry you for awhile. You will wish someone would rescue you. It will feel cruel when they refuse to do so. Yet, if they did, we would never find our own strength and power.

Safe Harbor by Carole MayLesson Eight: Dream Big and Have Faith in Your Dreams

My ancestral connection to Sir Francis Drake kept me sailing through many stormy seas. I reminded myself that faith and courage were part of my DNA. Yes, it was profoundly devastating to accept that my dreams of a legal career had been dashed upon the rocks of an abusive relationship. I had made tremendous sacrifices to go to law school, and writing off that investment was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been called to do. Gradually, however, I came to accept that my life had a greater purpose.

I never, ever wanted to become a domestic violence advocate. I wanted somebody else to step up to that plate. I wanted my life to be about something else. Anything else to be accurate. Anything. I spent years wailing at God and begging for a different mission. Almost a decade, in fact.

One day, however, I woke up (literally) and realized that my dreams had been sitting in my lap waiting for me to stop wailing and resisting. It was the proverbial green box. In retrospect, I realized I wanted to accelerate the recovery process. Nobody enjoys our time in the valley. We all want to experience the joy of the mountain top. I don’t like being disabled; “can’t” offends my optimism. I prefer SARK’s subtle editing of “impossible” into “I’m possible.”

 p10000821Lesson Nine: Leverage Your Talents and Professional Expertise

We all have talents and expertise. Focus on what you can do today. Carolyn Jessop was educated as a teacher, but the work she was able to get and to do was using her talents as a seamstress and collecting past-due accounts. I have the research instincts of a ferret and the ability to digest inordinately complex information and explain it in terms anyone can comprehend. Yes, I am still disabled, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying to do the best I am able to do with what I have right now. I believe that if we leverage our talents while we are in the valley, we will eventually get to the mountaintop.

Kirkland Ducks by Elena HanajenkoLesson Ten: Break Down the Wall of Silence and Connect with Survivors

There aremillions of us out there. We come from every walk of life, every neighborhood, every socio-economic level, every sexual persuasion, and every race or creed. The most meaningful assistance I have received has come from fellow survivors.  Most DV-prevention advances have been pioneered by survivors.

The challenge of bringing an end to the violence is formidable. Yet, I take heart at the tremendous strides the Susan G. Komen Foundation has achieved for breast cancer. There are at least four times more of us. We are smart. We are educated. We have professional networks and unique perspectives on how systems operate: law, medicine, business, politics, religion, academic research, social service, technology, and entertainment. We’ve been around the block without our training wheels.

I have faith that if we each on a daily basis engage in outrageous acts in the cause of social justice and contribute our knowledge, expertise, and experience that we can end the violence.

Path to VictoryLesson Eleven: Pay It Forward

Yes, everyone tells us to leave. But, nobody tells us how. That’s what this web site is about. We need to figure it out, and those of us who have lived to tell the tale must leverage our professional expertise to help the women and children walking in our shoes until the violence stops.

Related piece:

Powerful Secrets in Abusive Relationships [Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed]

© 2009, Anne Caroline Drake, Carole May, and Elena Hanajenko

All Rights Reserved

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4 responses to “Remembering Crystal: Life’s Lessons on Escaping the Abuse of a Powerful Man

  1. Hannah,

    Thanks for your comment. I love your blog. . .especially the link to the “Just Being Real” award.

    We seem to be creating community here in blog world, and IMHO that’s fantastic.

    May you be abundantly blessed,
    Carolyn

  2. Pingback: Beauty & the Pit Bull Beast: Miss WA, Elyse Umemoto, Experienced Domestic Violence « Anne Caroline Drake·

  3. I would like to know if anyone know, how Crystal Judons’s children are? Haley and David I believe are there names. I just watch the 48 hours show, and it really was upseting. But I was just curious how they are and hopeing, they are moving on and flourishing!!

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