Raymond High School mural

Alexis Frank and Morghan Brookens pose in front of the mural they created together in the Raymond High School gym.

PACIFIC COUNTY — Morghan Brookens left her abuser for the last time 10 days after giving birth to her daughter by cesarean section.

He let her out of his sight for her postpartum doctor’s appointment. She had five minutes with the doctor, and asked what she should do.

Her doctor told her to run.

“That’s when fight or flight takes over — it’s black and white, you feel the moment,” Brookens said. “You’ll feel ice for sure, that is the adrenaline rushing through your veins, but you’re faced with a choice. Do you want to believe in a better future or do you want to keep living hell over and over?”

Brookens took a train ride from New Orleans, through Louisiana to Washington. She was helped by a neighbor who lived above her in New Orleans and used to snowbird to Southwest Washington.

After five years, Brookens’ hell ended. She escaped; and she wants other people living in abusive relationships to know there is a path to freedom, and people to help them.

“With the lockdown, abusers are in a position of power,” Brookens said. “Think of how many people feel trapped right now and think of how that would be magnified.”

Domestic violence emergency orders

The fear that the covid-19 pandemic would increase violence in the home was voiced by advocates almost as soon as Gov. Jay Inslee issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders on March 23. On April 10, Inslee signed an emergency order to try and mitigate barriers the stay home order might present for people being abused, harassed or stalked.

The orders removed certain requirements for how temporary protective orders are served against someone accused of domestic violence. It also suspended a 14-day time limit for a hearing on whether to keep the order in place for a year. Orders could be served electronically. Hearings could be held by phone, video or audio, rather than in person.

Gov. Inslee asked for an extension of the order on May 9, which needed approval from House and Senate minority leaders, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.

In a letter to Inslee, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane and Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said they “strongly support extending the statutory waivers and suspensions” for sixty days. House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, supported an extension until May 11 for additional review. Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, opposed any extension.

For the emergency order to continue, all four leaders needed to agree to an extension. On May 11, Legislative leaders agreed to extend eight other emergency proclamations for another month, including orders related to nursing home transfers, driver license suspension and license renewal extensions. One order to increase health care facilities and hand sanitizer supply was renewed for two months.

In a statement on May 9, Inslee called the refusal to extend the domestic violence related order “not just deeply disappointing, it is dangerous.”

“This proclamation is not about convenience,” Inslee wrote. It is about saving lives of domestic violence and sexual assault victims who are in need of protection now more than ever.”

In an article by the Spokesman-Review, Schoesler called the criticism “cheap shots and completely off the mark.”

The orders, which had the support of the state prosecutors and sheriffs and police chief associations, expired on May 10.

Support in Pacific County

Crisis Support Network is a nonprofit serving people affected by domestic and sexual violence, as well as dating violence, stalking and other crime victims. The network can offer people rehousing resources, and uses hotels if there aren’t shelters available. The organization serves people in north and south Pacific County. Sometimes it has the resources to help people from surrounding counties as well, said Jennifer Mitchell, programs manager for Crisis Support Network.

The network doesn’t just offer housing options. Its client services funding helps with rent, maybe even groceries, Mitchell said.

“We never want someone faced with making the choice of taking their family back to an abusive relationship because they can at least feed them there,” Mitchell said.

She suspects the decrease in calls and cases being reported to the network is because people aren’t leaving their homes right now. She thinks as people are able to return to work and school, more will have a safe place from which to reach out to the network. She encourages people to call the network, even those not ready to leave. The network can talk them through deescalation techniques and plans that can make them safer where they are.

“What I would really like to get across is we’re still here,” Mitchell said. “Our office may not be staffed, but we’re still going out and meeting clients where they’re at, and we’re able to provide whatever services they might need to stay safe.”

Healing through art

For Brookens, her abuser was a reflection of how much hate she had for herself, she said. He fed off her self-hate. When she chose to leave him, she saw it as her choosing love.

“When in the hardest moments, I grounded myself,” Brookens said. “As in, I searched for three things of beauty within my line of sight. No matter what he did, tried, or said, he could never take the power to appreciate beauty from me.”

On Friday, April 17, Brookens was helping Alexis Frank finish a mural on the wall of the Raymond High School gym. The Willapa Heritage Foundation awarded Brookens a $1,500 grant for the mural supplies and Frank’s design was chosen. Since Brookens came to Pacific County, she’s hosted 14 painting classes and worked on 15 murals. She loved watching Frank learn about mural design and scaling her art to the wall.

“In some ways, I’m healing myself through her, I’m being who I needed when I was her age,” Brookens said.

She was grateful for the Willapa Heritage Foundation making the mural project possible. All of Pacific County gave Brookens new hope. No organization more so than Crisis Support Network. Brookens stayed in one of the network’s safe houses from August 2018 to October 2019.

The help Crisis Support Network gave Brookens was beyond what she ever expected. The staff there helped her furnish her apartment, got her and her baby daughter scheduled for a doctor’s appointment and helped her afford gas for a time. They helped her look for a job. She felt like the staff acted as liaisons between her and the community.

On July 13, Brooken’s daughter will turn 2 years old. Brookens has never felt more stable and more ready to take on the world. Any survivor of violence has the same stability and power inside them, she said. They’ve already lived through their darkest days, she said.

“I stole this quote from someone, so no copyright lawsuits; ‘Life is a photograph. It is developed through the negatives,” Brookens said.

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