Care, Dignity, and Respect: A Survivor’s Perspective

Some people are born into a vocation—whether it’s teaching, making art, or training to be a physician. They know from an early age and pursue their goals with laser focus. For others a career path winds and shifts directions as life intrudes and uncovers opportunities that weren’t previously apparent. Lisa Good belongs in that latter group.

Today, Lisa is the founder of Urban Grief, an organization based in Albany, NY, that provides critical, trauma-informed support for victims of violence while also acting as a fierce advocate for awareness and policy change to reduce violence. (Lisa is also a vital member of the EJUSA board of directors.) But she is the sum of her parts, and to understand how she came to her calling, you have to go back to her youth and understand that she is a crime and sexual assault survivor several times over.

Lisa Good (right) is the founder of Urban Grief

She told her story to Vogue in 2017. Lisa grew up an only child, so several cousins became her siblings. When she was 17, one of those cousins, Jay, was murdered during a robbery. For Lisa, it was the same as losing a brother.

“That really took me on a path of self-destruction,” said Lisa, in the Vogue essay. “I found myself in a lot of high-risk situations, drinking and hanging out with a bad crowd.”

After being raped, she also found she wanted vengeance. Luckily, she had a friend who kept her from making a tragic situation far worse.

Lisa soon married a man who would violently abuse her for years, even after she had left him. Her trauma continued to accrue, even when her ex-husband was himself murdered. She feels fortunate that she was able to go to therapy for free to get some help. “People need to know it’s okay to get help,” she said. “Access to programs doesn’t necessarily lead to utilization when it comes to this kind of pain.”

By 2001, Lisa had already spent nearly a decade helping those struggling with substance abuse, first as a counselor and then as the program director of a residential substance abuse facility. But she felt pulled to start Urban Grief. “It was a call from God in the face of overwhelming grief and trauma that I witnessed firsthand after violence,” said Lisa. “I wanted to know who was helping, so I did a needs assessment. This included interviewing survivors and I found that no one was offering help.”

One of the cornerstones of Urban Grief’s mission is to perform outreach to shooting victims and the families of those who have been murdered. Over the course of her career, Lisa continued to uncover gaps that weren’t being addressed. “My overall observation is that people of color don’t generally know about victims’ services,” she said. “They are not given basic information and sometimes feel re-victimized by their interactions with systems.  A lot of the time, this means that the criminal justice system was traumatic for them and didn’t provide real justice or address the need for safety.” The consequence of this is that the cycle of trauma and violence, when unaddressed, perpetuates.

The week of April 7 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, an ideal time to talk about what survivors need as they deal with trauma. Over the course of 18 years of doing this work, and informed by the trauma she’s survived plus her training and expertise on the traumatic impact of violence, Lisa has zeroed in on some fundamental needs that all survivors should get: care, dignity, and respect. It seems so simple, and yet so often reality tells a far different story.

“Sometimes when I hear families describe their encounters, they’re treated more like criminals,” she said. “They come away feeling like they’re being treated as suspects and without any empathy.”

Lisa’s advocacy is critical, whether she’s raising awareness throughout a community about the impact of violence and trauma in their own lives or sitting with a survivor in the immediate aftermath of violence. In that moment, especially, she has found that keeping it simple is the way to go.

“The first step is I just ask: ‘How can I help? I’m here to help.’”

Increasing access to help for crime survivors – where it’s most needed

honoring victimsThis week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The theme this year is Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope., which highlights the need for early intervention and victims services that build trust with crime survivors, and creates hope that healing is possible.

We’ve been working with crime survivors for over 10 years. And what we’ve learned from them over and over again is that these services – and a commitment to healing – remain out of reach for the vast majority of them.

Crime survivors aren’t getting the help they need

The numbers agree – estimates are that more than 90% of crime survivors don’t access any victims services. You read that right: 90% of the people in the U.S. who’ve been hurt, robbed, shot, assaulted, abused, raped, or had a family member murdered got no formal help to process their trauma, cope with their grief, or rebuild their lives in even practical ways.

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Another Family harmed by murder and the fight over the death penalty

Shelby Farah at graduationShelby Farah was a bright, compassionate, determined 20-year-old when she was shot to death during a robbery at the Metro-PCS store where she worked. Shelby’s murder shocked the community in Jacksonville, Florida, and her family has spent the last two and a half years grieving their loss.

The death penalty has added to this trauma, as they have been forced to endure an extended legal process, increased media scrutiny, their own complex feelings about the death penalty, and a polarizing, public debate about it at a time when they need each other most.

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Funding available for groups serving survivors in Colorado

Colorado has opened its application process for organizations to apply for funds through the Federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA).  If you are an organization in Colorado that works with crime survivors or victims’ families, you may be eligible to apply through this RFP process.

Through our VOCA Funding Toolkit, and assistance from our Grassroots Capacity Building Specialist, EJUSA can help groups determine if they are eligible, answer questions about the process, and provide some support for your group’s application. Please contact Latrina Kelly-James at latrinakj@ejusa.org or (203) 823-5826 or download the toolkit here.

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Victory! Congress saves funds for life-saving victim services

DontCutVOCA---victoryYou spoke, and Congress listened! Thanks to everyone who participated in our #DontCutVOCA action, we have something to celebrate in the New Year: Congress approved an appropriations bill that increases funding for crime survivor services, known as VOCA funding, by over 15% in 2016.

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Recommended: New resource for how to support someone harmed by crime & violence

help.hope.healThe Partnership for Safety and Justice, a criminal justice reform organization in Oregon, just launched a new website, Help.Hope.Heal, for people whose friends or family members have been harmed by crime or violence. The website includes advice and resources to help you learn what to say and do to support your friend and yourself, so that you can be the best caregiver you can be. The site is beautiful and inviting.

Toolkit available for organizations serving crime survivors

EJUSA VOCA ToolkitAs part of our growing work to bring racial equity to victims’ services, EJUSA published a comprehensive toolkit to help groups apply for Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding. The toolkit is geared towards organizations serving crime survivors – particularly in communities of color – that have not had access to federal funding in the past.

EJUSA Grassroots Capacity Building Specialist Latrina Kelly-James led a webinar to introduce the toolkit and help organizations understand the funding that is available. Over 45 organizational leaders participated, and many more have downloaded the toolkit or reached out for support in applying for funds.
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Urgent: Tell Congress not to cut victims services

#DontCutVOCAWe need your urgent action to help save critical funding for victims services.

Every year, Congress sets a level of spending from a fund known as VOCA. These are not tax dollars. Many of these funds go to community groups to support vital services like trauma intervention and counseling for people who have been harmed by crime and violence.

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Honoring victims, calling for a system that heals

Tamika Darden-Thomas with her father

On September 25, in honor of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, I spent time reaching out to several family members of murder victims. Some survivors shared the traditions they have developed over the years to mark the day, including visiting burial grounds or viewing commemorative videos and photographs. Others told me that the day was just as difficult as any other day of loss and grief.

For Tamika Darden-Thomas, an African American resident of Newark, New Jersey, sharing her story with others has been a source of great healing, and she was eager to also share it with me.

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Justice, reimagined

For 25 years, you’ve helped us tackle one of the most serious flaws in the U.S. justice system: the death penalty. We’re not done with that work. But you know what? We’re almost there. Really.

So what’s next when we end the death penalty?

We believe it’s not enough to just dismantle the parts of the justice system that aren’t working. We also have to build up the system we want in its place.

Today, we’re expanding that part of our work with two new programs that I’m thrilled to share with you:
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