October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Many people will be wearing purple to raise awareness and many groups, like Milwaukee Women's Center, focus on taking care of the victims.
However, a different group, another cross-section of Milwaukee Women's Center is tackling the issue from the root. Nevermore Batterers Treatment focuses on educating the abusers to try and end the cycle of domestic abuse.
"I was traumatized and I didn't know I was traumatized," Steven Thomas, Program Manager said. "This is intervening and hoping to make something right but we hope that each one that lives here will take something into the community to make it a little safer so it's a start to healing the problem."
Most of the men at the meeting are there under court orders. However, Thomas doesn't give them a pass. They get real, asking tough questions and figuring out what lead them down the road they went.
"If we don't hold them accountable, they go out and do the same thing they were doing before," Thomas said. "It's a reality check. That's what it is. One man described it as a life skills course. We have more success stories than we have failures."
Thomas himself went through the program. He talks in a very matter of fact way to them.
Sometimes, expletives fly, but it's a welcoming environment for the men to share their emotions. Emotions on fatherhood, their own childhood, why they may be angry.
Most of the group asked to remain anonymous. One man told a story about how the program has helped him.
He says, while he was driving his new car, someone pulled up too close to him in the shoulder at a light. They took off at the light and it was still too close. He says he got out at the next light and approached the driver.
It didn't escalate to more, but he admitted it was something he shouldn't have done.
The group as a whole helped him work through it.
He admitted, he had lost a brother in a car crash so he is sensitive to issues dealing with an automobile. It's breakthroughs like this the group hopes to make.
"Nevermore, it has a great meaning in it," Thomas said. "It means nevermore will I commit acts of violence. You have to eliminate violence as a whole because you don't want a guy to eliminate domestic violence but still causing street violence."
Jamal Humphries is just such a case. He is just 26-years-old but has been in the system since he was nine. He was in foster care for ten years. Now, he's in the class after going to jail for a domestic violence case.
"It was court ordered," Humphries said. "At first I was like, oh no. I don't need that. I didn't do anything wrong. But when I got to class, I was like, oh this is totally different."
Humphries continues to have breakthroughs. It's the first time in his life he's felt heard.
"It was already hard for me to say, this is how I'm truly feeling," Humphries said. "I just bottled everything up. I'm happy with who I am now. I'm not proud of the decisions I made, but I'm happy to say I'm standing 10 toes to move forward with my life the way I want to do it."
Decisions is a word you frequently hear in the class. No one refers to their domestic violence incident as a mistake. Mistake implies they didn't mean to do what they did at the time and lends itself to an excuse. It's something Thomas won't allow.
"We use the term bad decision," Thomas said. "If I step on your shoes as we're leaving the room, that's a mistake. If you bump into me and I punch you in the face, that's a choice. It's not a mistake. It's well planned out and well thought. It's about rehabilitating the behavior we were socialized to think are right and most of us were socialized."
Humphries says he'll continue going to the classes even after he's no longer court ordered to do so. He says the classes help him be a better person.
It's the person he's always wanted to be and a man his son can look up to and hopefully not make the same bad decisions he did so they can break the cycle together.
"If I don't help anybody, I'm going to feel bad," Humphries said. "That just goes to show, I'm no better than who gave up on me. So I can't give up on anybody. I have to get it done, especially for my son. He has to be better than I ever was and that's a fact."