Mother Escapes Domestic Violence Only to End Up Homeless, Part 2

escaping domestic violence to end up homeless on the open road

This is part 2 in Detroit Richard’s experience with domestic violence and homelessness. To read part 1, click here.

In my last years in Japan with my husband, I had access to the internet and started finding old friends. Before I got married, I knew some people in the US from when I was younger and renewed contact with them.

One close friend in the US saw how desperate the situation was and decided to try and help me, but the issues were still the same. I had no money, I had to avoid being charged under the Hague Convention, and I also had to outrun my husband. My husband was still obsessed with controlling me and didn’t want me to leave. I knew I would be in immense danger as soon as I tried to leave.

One evening my husband came home. He was in a fury. I tried to calm him down and be ‘sweet’ to try and survive.

I often hear from people that they would not have put up with his abuse and would have hit back. If I tried to resist, let alone fight back, he escalated the violence dramatically. To fight back was to risk being killed. The only way not to get hurt too badly and keep my child safe was not to resist, make a noise, or struggle. Any perceived fightback or challenge was met with huge violence. I had no one who was going to protect me. The police, despite him hitting me in public and members of the public getting involved, never protected me or arrested him. I was on my own.

I stood quietly in front of floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors that led to the balcony, directing his attention away from the boy so he could run to his bedroom and hide under the bed as I had taught him. My husband picked up a chair and started to smash the glass around me. I caught a fleeting glimpse of death as there was no way to escape without going past him. I did not have the key to the permanent bars across the front windows, so I had to escape through the front door. There was no other way.

As the last balcony glass door shattered, I made a run for it barefoot across shattered glass. I ran past my husband, screaming at my small son to come to mommy. Holding him in my arms, grabbing our shoes in my hands, and running barefoot towards the apartment block stairs, I knew I had to get away permanently. My time to survive was rapidly running out.

Like we did so many times throughout the years in Japan, we wandered the streets hiding from my raging husband. I had no friends, no money, and his family was not interested in helping me. I carried my son into a café, hoping there was something on the menu for under 235 yen. The waitress took one look at us and let us sit there quietly for a few hours.

By the time I got back, the apartment complex was crawling with cops and fire service people. They thought he had killed me. His father was standing outside and fell to his knees when he saw us both alive. Still, the cops did not remove my husband from the family home or arrest him despite my begging. It was a family matter. His father and brother simply went home and said they would return in the morning. I was left alone in the house with the man who had just tried to kill me.

Shortly after, my husband’s office wanted him to transfer to the American branch. I was overjoyed. My friend Timber sold his trailer and a couple of guitars and purchased a cheap small camper van in preparation for our arrival. The prospect of living on the road homeless, undocumented, moving from campsite to parking lot to rest area was better than dying in my apartment. Terrified, I just needed to get away from my husband. I was done playing by the rules. This was now a matter of survival.

What followed next was a blur of purchasing tickets and gaining my husband’s trust.

It would be perilous if he knew I would leave him and take the child to safety with me. I knew I would end up being undocumented in a country that seemed increasingly hostile to such situations. I wrongly thought that my husband would divorce me and leave me with the option to marry my old friend.

Timber pulled into the motel parking lot in his camper. My son and I threw our bags into the rear cabin. I sat up the front navigating, and my 7-year-old son strapped himself into a chair behind me. Timber put the van into gear and launched us down Route 101. The road stretched out before us. We had no idea where we would be camping that night as we drove out of Los Angeles. It barely mattered: we were safer than we had ever been before.

I did not realize at the time how traumatized I was, nor how scared I had been in those moments between walking out of the apartment and making it to L.A. Everything was a threat to us. Every moment between my feet exiting the door to reaching my friend felt like an eternity. My son squeezed my shoulder. Now, with the road stretching ahead aimlessly across this beautiful huge open country, my whole body started to shake with tears.

California. The spring sun was shining on a barren, dusty highway headed north. I felt cast upon an ocean. Lost at sea. Timber looked at me intently and said:

“I’ve seen that look before on the faces of guys who just got out of jail. It gets easier. Promise.”

The stars and the sky, the road and the rest areas, the national forests and the primitive campgrounds – all of it looked like heaven to me. My black eye itched as it healed under a layer of makeup. Timber passed the kid a stick of jerky and a cookie, patted his head, and told him, “It’s gonna be alright kiddo…..”

I almost believed it could be.

Detroit Richards

Detroit Richards


Detroit Richards was unhoused between 2015 and 2020, and after ten months in a SIP hotel, was awarded a housing subsidy for a year. She currently lives with her son in San Francisco, and writes for Street Sheet and at her blog

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