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Online Training Lesson # 5: Phil Putnam’s Story

Stories of Hope and Inspiration After Violence

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Lesson # 5

Phil is a quiet-spoken man, age 41, who has been married for more than ten years to his second wife and is the father of five children from two marriages.  He became disabled on the job seven years ago and since he has been out of work since that time the family has struggled to survive on his disability income.  As we spoke Phil sat much of the time with his head down, huddled in his chair wrapped in a heavy winter jacket on a moderate fall day, and it became clear that he was very hungry at mid-morning.  He appeared ashamed and withdrawn – not wanting to make eye contact.

Due to his work-related injuries Phil often found himself in pain and he made the choice to self-medicate for this pain through the use of drugs and alcohol.  While he had previously attended AA and another drug and alcohol recovery program, he was unable to curb this addiction that was running his life.  Alcohol and drugs fueled his anger and facilitated his physically violent response to everyday events.  Eventually, after his abuse became evident to one of the children’s teachers, he was charged with and convicted of criminal mistreatment of his children.  Due to the unstable lifestyle of his wife, the four children at home were removed from the home and placed together in foster care.  The family was broken apart, Phil was sent to jail, and his wife subsequently became pregnant by a new man in her life.

During his time in jail Phil had a lot of time to consider the consequences of his behavior.  In fact, he was confronted with his wife’s new partner in prison and, after an altercation with this man, he was put in “the hole.”   I spent a lot of time in a solitary confinement environment and it just soaked right in…My goal is to reunite with my family.

Once his six-month prison sentence was complete, Phil decided on a plan of action that he believed would satisfy the State child protection workers and thus facilitate this family reunification.  He chose to attend an anger management type of program, in this case a batterers’ intervention program, as part of a rehabilitation package, along with drug and alcohol treatment and individual therapy.  He began the intervention program at a secular agency and realized almost immediately that it was not the place for him.  I went to three sessions and you know just right from the start it was not a good fit.   Needing to find a more suitable program Phil found his way to the faith-based agency in his city where, he says, here I feel like I have gotten a lot more information and I am here because I want to be here.  I have a whole different frame of mind when I come here.  It seems like more of a spiritual based program and I just really want that with everything that is going on in my life just now.  I feel like it was meant to be.

The program has a variety of teaching methods that seemed to be helpful for Phil and kept him coming back for more. So far since I have been coming here we have sat down and watched a movie at one of them and it was respect based.  We kind of go through the process of how your feelings and how your thoughts reflect on what your actions are, and what you do, and if you can make it so that your action changes.  To me I think that is a really good thing because without that a person really doesn’t have the tools to change, and it is just what they need.  I want to be here to learn that kind of stuff so I think it is very effective for me…We just have so much information and if fits right in with our everyday life and that’s new to me so it’s nice for me to hear…I think more than I used to – I am not as self centered as I used to be.

The group environment is useful to Phil in several ways.  Not only does it help his interpersonal skills but listening to the stories of other men helps him to rethink his own position on issues.  The helpful part of having a group right there is everybody has got a little piece of what is going on with you, something that you can identify with and if they have a good something that works for dealing with that for them then you can apply it to something else that works for you.

When asked about his dreams Phil has clear direction – well I am hoping to be able to be in my kids’ lives…to work to be reunited with them, have visits with them.   The same dream applies to his wife as he says I don’t see how I could possibly get back together with her at this point but I am still holding that hope that maybe someday we’ll get together – that something good can come of this.  After meeting with many roadblocks in the fulfillment of his goals, Phil believes that the acceptance and assistance of the intervention agency staff has been critical to his journey toward change – they are here to help you.

Phil has recently been baptized and is enthusiastic about his newfound faith.  Not only does he attend church every Sunday but the treatment programs he participates in have what he calls a real good spiritual base.  They do me as much good or more than the treatment.  We know that his faith will offer a good foundation for his sense of hope and that hope can signal a warrant for action – as a process based on personal agency or determination.  The belief that tomorrow can be a better day is a necessary element in working toward change.

Phil made the realization of his dreams and goals a full-time pursuit, thus he was able to “fast-track” his programs.  We met with Phil again when he had completed both batterers’ intervention and his drug and alcohol treatment.  At that point, he was having regular contact with his children and was together again with his wife.  In order to regain custody of the children he was seeking suitable housing and employment.  According to him, his life was back on track and a family reunification was imminent.

Over time Phil became more fully able to recognize frustrations and joys as well as challenges and successes.  Importantly, he also recognized the role faith plays in his life, what his goals are and who he wishes to become.

The combination of interventions appears to have been successful for Phil.  Losing his family was the catalyst that pushed him toward changed thinking and behavior.  But it was his heartfelt hope for reunification and a peaceful family life kept him moving toward change. 

Questions to Consider:

    1. What are Phil’s greatest needs at this time in his life?
    2. What might a local congregation offer to a man in Phil’s situation?
    3. How might pastoral care dovetail with support offered by the faith-based batterer intervention program?
    4. What challenges does ministering to a man like Phil present to a religious leader?