‘Humans of New York’ Just Featured a Latina Who Broke the Cycle of Abuse

Abuse is a tough cycle to break and even after walking away the fear will always linger. This Latina, who was featured on the photography page Humans of New York, has spent her life fighting against abuse. She’s finally at a place where she feels safe and comfortable.

Jessie Garcia grew up in a house of violence where her mom would beat her for anything from asking for food to breaking a dish.

(1/6) “I grew up in a household where you were beaten for small things. Like breaking a dish. Or asking for food. My mom was very religious, so she’d take us to church and we’d listen to the pastor talk about love. Then she’d still take us to the back room and beat us. I ran away when I was thirteen. I lived in group homes and foster homes in every borough. When I met him, I was working at the supermarket. I was sixteen. He was sixteen years older than me. He had a car. He was handsome. He’d do little things to make me laugh. He’d wait in a long line just to buy a stick of gum from my register. He gave me compliments. I’d never been complimented in my entire life. He called me smart. And pretty. And nice. He brought me flowers. I’d never experienced anything like that before. I felt so alone at the time. I was living at the group home. I didn’t have anyone to teach me about life. I wanted a family. I wanted a protector.”

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“My mom was very religious, so she’d take us to church and we’d listen to the pastor talk about love,” Jessie recounts. “Then she’d still take us to the back room and beat us. I ran away when I was thirteen. I lived in group homes and foster homes in every borough.”

After living in group and foster homes, she thought she finally found the man to protect her and care for her. She was 16 and he was 32.

(2/6) “Looking back, I don’t know if it was love or lust. I didn’t have anything to compare it to at the time. He started driving me home from work. Then we started going on little dates. Soon we were spending all our time together. I moved out of the group home and began living with him. I cooked for him, and did his laundry, and ironed his clothes. It was natural for me. I’d done all of this for my siblings because our mother would leave us for months at a time. I’d always told myself that I was never going to be like my mother. I was going to be a perfect mom. And a perfect wife. And now that I had the man of my dreams, I’d do anything he asked. The first time he hit me was when I was seven months pregnant with our first child. I woke up to him screaming at me: ‘You see I’m awake, now get up and help me!’ I need help with my insulin!’ I tried to help him with his insulin but I didn’t do it right. So he pushed me on the floor.”

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“Looking back, I don’t know if it was love or lust. I didn’t have anything to compare it to at the time,” Jessie says about the man that wooed her. “He started driving me home from work. Then we started going on little dates. Soon we were spending all our time together. I moved out of the group home and began living with him.”

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Jessie moved in with him…it wasn’t long before he began abusing her. The first time he hit her, she was seven months pregnant with their first child.

(3/6) “I started to become afraid of him. But I never argued back because I thought it would make him even more angry. He started to pick on me. He’d criticize how I dressed. And how I wore my hair. I remember it used to bother him that I used the word ‘love’ so much. I was an optimistic girl, so I was always talking about how I ‘loved’ things. ‘Stop saying that word,’ he’d say. ‘Why do you love everything? That’s so stupid.’ I remember one night he hit me because I mixed his vegetables with his rice. I became very still and quiet around him. Just like I’d been with my mother. Remember—this was all I’d ever known. ‘It’s normal,’ I told myself, ‘Everyone gets a beating sometimes.’ We had five children together. It’s hard to explain why I stayed. He began beating blood out of me. But then he’d hug me and tell me he was sorry. He’d tell me that he needed me. He told me about his childhood. He told me that his father beat him every day. He told me that he had no mother. He used to say: ‘I see you as my mother.’ And that made me feel good. ‘I need you,’ he’d say. And that feeling of being needed is what kept me in that house. He was the father of my children, after all. I told myself he’d been traumatized. And it wasn’t his fault. But here’s the thing– I’d been traumatized too. And I didn’t hurt anyone.”

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“I remember one night he hit me because I mixed his vegetables with his rice. I became very still and quiet around him,” she said about living with the man. “Just like I’d been with my mother. Remember—this was all I’d ever known. ‘It’s normal,’ I told myself, ‘Everyone gets a beating sometimes.’”

The man blamed his rough upbringing for his temper but Jessie thought about the violence in her youth and how she’d never treated anyone that way.

(4/6) “One day the counselor at my daughter’s elementary school called me. She said that my daughter had spoken up in class about the abuse. She asked me to come in for a meeting. I downplayed it because I was scared. I told her: ‘Thanks for your concern. But it was nothing, really. And it’s already stopped.’ The counselor gave me a pamphlet for a place called HeartShare. HeartShare was just two blocks from my house, so I stopped in one day. I told the counselor what was happening. She discussed the option of domestic violence shelters. But I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to break up my family. Then one day he beat me so badly in the stairwell. He punched me so hard that he got blood on my children. I told the counselor what happened and she said to gather all my papers. She told me she’d be in a black car on the corner. I told my husband I was going to the grocery store. I was so nervous because he timed me every time I left the house. I still had to pick up the kids from school. And if I was gone for more than a few minutes, he’d come looking for me.”

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It took strangers to help her gain the courage to leave. “I told the counselor [of HeartShare] what was happening. She discussed the option of domestic violence shelters,” she remembers. “But I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to break up my family. Then one day he beat me so badly in the stairwell. He punched me so hard that he got blood on my children.”

So she left with her kids and found a shelter.

He did track them down using the GPS on her phone and attempted to attack her while she was in the shelter. “The kids started screaming. He pushed me to the ground. While the security was dragging him away, he was screaming that I’d stolen his children,” she said about the last confrontation with the man. “And that everything was my fault. And it made me feel guilty. He always knew how to make me feel guilty.”

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As a single mother of 5, she’s started over. Though she struggles, she is grateful that she and her children are finally safe and she feels lucky.

(6/6) “I’m trying to make it on my own. It’s been a tough road. I fell behind at our first apartment and we got evicted. But I went through a job program for women and now I work as a case manager with Coalition for The Homeless. We moved into a two-bedroom in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I love my job, but I’m trying to raise four kids on a single income. We don’t have much extra stuff. We don’t have cable. The kids say they need internet for school but we’d need a computer for that, so we just go to the library. I’d love to hang up nice curtains. Or paint the house. But I don’t want to make our apartment into a home because I’m afraid to get too comfortable. I’ve already come close to missing rent so many times. I feel like I can never relax. But I have the most wonderful children. They never want me to buy them new things. But I’m afraid that I’m damaging their confidence. I can’t do anything nice for them. And I don’t want them to grow up feeling like they don’t deserve nice things. But at least we’re together. And we have a home. And we’re safe. I tell the girls all the time that we should feel lucky. I think they get tired of me saying that. But I honestly feel that we're so lucky.”

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Jessie is currently working as a case manager with Coalition for the Homeless. “I’d love to hang up nice curtains. Or paint the house. But I don’t want to make our apartment into a home because I’m afraid to get too comfortable,” she says of her new life away from the violence. “I’ve already come close to missing rent so many times. I feel like I can never relax. But I have the most wonderful children. They never want me to buy them new things. But I’m afraid that I’m damaging their confidence. I can’t do anything nice for them. And I don’t want them to grow up feeling like they don’t deserve nice things. But at least we’re together. And we have a home. And we’re safe.”

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