In the documentary America's Heart and Soul, a film sequence begins with a close-up shot of a bald eagle. Its iconic pearl head is thrust forward; its wings gleam with vitality and power. The bird is held in talon-proof gloves by an elder of the Alaskan Tlingit Indian Tribe. The Tlingit have a history of success in rescuing wounded eagles. They shelter the animals and treat their injuries until they're strong enough to return to the wild.
The man's arms swing upward, his gloves disappear in a feathery blur, and the eagle is gone. The camera cuts to show the bird ascending past a row of telephone poles, over evergreens, and upwards still. Finally, above an expansive Alaskan landscape, the eagle soars majestically in the sun-drenched sky. The climax is accompanied by the elder's voice-over narration:
"When we rescue an injured eagle, and nurture her back to health, she will fly once again, and gets a second chance... It's like watching a great spirit of freedom..."
The eagle "gets a second chance," meaning its injuries have not sealed its fate. For me, the term "second chance"has a special significance because it echoes the name I chose for my charitable organization, Second Chance Employment Services, which was founded many years before this film was made. The mission of Second Chance is to restore the spirit of abused victims who have been profoundly injured by domestic violence. The shared term evokes certain symbolic connections between the eagle's release and the work of Second Chance.
Domestic violence victims come to Second Chance severely injured, physically and psychologically. Having been subjected to terrible oppression and brutality, they want nothing more than to be free. Yet, voices around them and often their own inner voice as well, have convinced them there is no hope of escape and no way to improve their circumstances. Second Chance's long track record of success proves they can indeed escape the violence and oppression of domestic violence and begin a new life free from abuse.
In the documentary, the purpose of the eagle's rescue is not only to treat its injuries. Another purpose is to return the eagle to its natural place, to set it free. Second Chance was founded with an analogous goal. Beyond helping them to survive and recover from physical and psychological wounds, the organization exists to enable survivors to live in total freedom from violent relationships as they pursue their own independent aspirations and dreams.
Another parallel lies in the way the eagle returns to the wild. To leave the rescuer's hands, to climb higher and to finally soar, the eagle uses the natural strength of its own wings. Initially, the creature had to depend on its rescuers. Without their expert diagnosis, treatment, and care, it could not have recovered. But when the strength to live independently is restored, it flies to freedom empowered with newfound independence and power.
The system pioneered by Second Chance is fundamentally a system of empowerment. It often happens that a woman is referred to us after she's been mistreated with unimaginable cruelty at the hands of a domestic partner. Her challenges may seem insurmountable. Following a step-by-step process, she is helped by and then enabled to let go of graduated forms of support, tailored to her specific needs. Ultimately, Second Chance does not carry her to freedom. Second Chance releases her to freedom. The survivor is empowered to fly, as it were, on the power of her own wings.
Finally, the Tlingit's phrase, "great spirit of freedom" rings true as a metaphor because the eagle's release from the shelter is permanent. Never turning back, the very emblem of independence resumes its rightful place in the sky. If the release were temporary, if the flight ended with a descending spiral back to the shelter, the beauty of the scene with its triumphal music and magnificent footage would be lost. In fact, there would be no scene.
The primary goal of Second Chance is the same: freedom that lasts. Our emphasis on permanence is one of the things that sets Second Chance's method apart. Although temporary services for protection and healing are absolutely essential, they are still insufficient. Second Chance is aimed at the underlying problems of domestic captivity and tyranny. The services are specifically designed to help victims avoid being drawn back into their injuries relationships. So, when a survivor is released by Second Chance, I imagine the fulfillment of an ancient scripture: they "shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles."
Excerpted from Ending Domestic Violence Captivity: A Guide To Economic Freedom (Volcano Press 2014).