WRONG. It is not the post office box, but rather an almost magical space that is safe. A space that allowed high risk victim/survivors to communicate with the assurance they can find a way to be in touch with necessary people, or still pay off debts without being traced. This can mean everything to someone who has gone underground due to domestic violence or rape/sexual assault. They had to abandon every part of their life, and indeed probably, for life. This is their one “lifeline” and for a high risk underground victim, this is life sustaining.
The Trula Godwin Project was created posthumously in her memory when Police Officer and sex crime expert Trula Ann Godwin succumbed to breast cancer after 28 years on the Davenport, Iowa police force. During her time on the force she dedicated herself to serving victims and during her brief, forced retirement due to the cancer, she volunteered working for the Quad City’s homeless, domestic violence, and rape/sexual assault victims. In 2015 the project was closed to protect any links and information revelations that might compromise identity security for the victim/survivors, workers, and locations that had been served. It was due to the retirement for reasons of health, of this author, her sister, who founded the organization.
MY TOUGHEST CASE (only partly disclosed-part A. )
Homeland Security went on high alert after 9/11 and there were “good and bad” repercussions. The good, obviously were about the control of terrorism. The bad was that it was necessary to have “blanket coverage” in many of the rules, meaning everyone had to follow them. Suddenly, we who were experienced advocates found we could not help victims open new bank accounts without their social security, or proper id; something they could not use without being traced and found. They could not get a P.O. box without proper “i.d.” and this they could not use without being found. They could not get a driver’s license without being found. One victim in desperation, being states away from more than a year, did try to get a license half way across the country, and THE VERY NEXT DAY SHE RECEIVED A CALL FROM THE ABUSER. WHAT TO DO?
THE NOVELS BECAME “UNDERGROUND WORKSHOPS” FOR VICTIMS, WORKERS AND INTERESTED PARTIES.
These challenges and threats are part of what led me to write 15 novels (Greyhound Lady Walking http://www.joycegodwingrubbs.webs.com ) about the “underground. It necessitated sharing about the very involved, high level shenanigans and sometime out and out lies, to get around the laws. Every victim/survivor going underground, especially the high-risk ones, could not use any id or social security number they had for at least one full year. They had to get another S.S. number, and it was not easy or fast. It is said by some workers it takes 6 months to get a new identity, but in my experience to do it right and be safe, it would always be one year.
A new post office box user would only use the p.o. box 1155 and then it was sent from various locations in the country with a “pass it on-hand it off” routing done by trained, confidential volunteers. It involved always taking the original letter and putting it in a new envelope and using the same p.o.box 1155 return. It would be sent state to state, until the person designated would mail it to the intended address with no return address. Thus if you wanted someone to think you were in California, the process might go first to New Mexico, then to Wisconsin, and then to California, and from there to the intended. That way no one person knew for sure who sent it from where, or who the sender was. Trust me it is the only safe way.
MY TOUGHEST CASE (Part B)
This stringent system was put in place after an abuser was able to access a child support check copy (front and back) in a federal office after it had been cashed. The abuser then traced the trail to the main bank in our state (halfway across the country) . The abuser then left a letter in the victim’s family mailbox in her home state. The family sent it to her via the 1155, and when she opened it, on the inside was a note, “We are getting closer.” They enclosed a copy of the back of the cashed child support check. That very night, we borrowed a horse trailer and moved the victim states away. Thus the Underground Mail System which began for her sake, still served other victims for years to come with no more “compromises.” I am unable to give you a count as to how many pieces of mail and victims were served.
THE POST OFFICE BECAME AN “ANGEL UNAWARE.”
Our Post Office was unaware of the “service” it was providing, and we only listed alias names to receive mail. It was kept in a nearby state so it could not be traced to me. Various trained volunteers assisted me so no one was identified at the box (timed to make that happen.) It got a little tricky at Christmas when folks sent packages, but volunteers were wonderful. This was a 100% volunteer coordination with zero funding. (There is no way to be a non-profit and keep victims/survivors safe in an underground mail system, as there is no way to hide the information from probing government surveillance and the always “evil, dreaded, inevitable paper trail”.
YES, IT WAS HARD TO TELL THE STORIES AND BE ABLE TO SAY UNEQUIVOCABLY THAT THEY HAVE HUMOR, JOY, TRUTH, ENCOURAGEMENT, EMPOWERMENT, AND HONESTY. NO CONFIDENTIALITIES WERE BROKEN IN THEIR REVELATIONS.
If you want to learn more about the techniques of the underground placement of victim/survivors, and in particular protecting the high-risk when they are transported and use of the mail system, you can. Read about the real cases/voices of the victims, written into a creative fiction series to protect confidentiality. This is done by having created a fictitious network of locations, transportation hubs, methods of victim secrets using codes, hiding techniques, tricks to “losing” the abuser, , and fascinating, exciting yet real characters disguised yet proven. . The stories and cases are true, but to protect the confidentiality of victim/survivors, workers, and locations they are set in new venues and changed in ways that prevents tracing them.
Once again, real life trumps fiction as some of these true stories are stranger and more un-believable than fiction. They were written in collaboration with Police Officer Trula Godwin, my sister, before her death. There was also technical assistance by some of her fellow officers in high risk escapes “off the books.” As for my part, I drew on experiences as a 40+ year advocate/counselor of victims and survivors, crisis line worker and putting victims underground safely throughout the country.
As children of parents in a violent domestic violence home, we knew what it was to sleep in open fields we escaped too in the middle of the night, but having to return home due to no place to go. There were no shelters in that era and the families told my mother, “when you married him you made your bed, so now you can lie in it on your own.” Churches counseled her to “go home and be a better wife.” My mother “ran” more than once with daughters in tow, but was found and returned to home.
My sister experienced domestic violence in her marriage and even following her joining the police force. She finally “got out” but it proves the point that beyond being a strong woman, you must have support. It took years for her to find that, and when she did, she helped many others to leave, and saw others, who paid the ultimate price trying.
Yes, P.O. box 1155 and The Trula Godwin Project were very personal. It is my fervent prayer that others will read the books and be inspired to receive help and lend assistance. Also that they will learn many tips on the “Safe How too’s” in the storylines of the various novels.
This novel and it’s sentiments reflect the core of who I am as a survivor. “There is a wrong side of the tracks, wrong side of town, wrong family, religion, culture, circumstances. MAKING IT TO THE STRONG SIDE IS A CHOICE. Author Joyce Godwin Grubbs.