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Wynona Ward and Truck
11.15.02
Society and Community
Transcript: Wynona Ward — Have Justice Will Travel
More on This Story:
Wynona Ward
Transcript

ROBE IMBRIANO: As the leaves begin to fall upon rural Vermont, the miles on this SUV start to pile up. With the cold weather, come more incidents of domestic violence.

Wynona Ward is the highly unlikely founder of Have Justice Will Travel. She's started her new career by creating an organization that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence in this area...Victims trapped by abuse and pastoral isolation.

WYNONA WARD: I think one of the things that people don't realize is that Vermont still in many areas is very rural. The difference between rural domestic violence and domestic violence in urban areas is the difficulty in reaching out for these services, the difficulty in getting them. You can't hop on a bus and go downtown and fill out welfare papers here. You've got to have transportation, it's a very big problem.

Many women live 30 to 40 miles away from the courthouse, many of them, in fact, live that far away from a large grocery store or a doctor's office, say nothing about getting into a town to see a lawyer. It is just not possible for them to do. So we go to them, in their environment where they are comfortable, and where we can provide the services they so desperately need.

ROBE IMBRIANO: Ward's law firm on wheels travels from home to home dotting the mountainsides. Some neighbors in these parts are miles away from each other - too far away to hear a squabble or a beating. For these victims, mostly women, Wynona Ward may be their only way to escape the abuse.

CONNIE: I had a great sense of shame over what had happened to me, and she knew that I was ashamed. I also knew her family because I grew up in this area, and um, I'm a seventh generation Vermonter.

ROBE IMBRIANO: Known by just about everyone around here, Connie Button's isolation was in plain sight.

CONNIE: Vermont is a beautiful place, and I think that there's a strong sense of community. And I do feel like people rally around to help each other. But I also think there's some of "My neighbor's business is my neighbor's business. And I don't get involved in my neighbor's business."

ROBE IMBRIANO: Besides distance and social pressure, many rural victims can't afford an attorney. But that doesn't stop Wynona Ward. Neither does the fact that often she's all alone in a distinctive vehicle on a deserted road… driving right smack into the middle of a dispute that's already turned violent. It doesn't stop her because before she became a lawyer, Wynona spent a lifetime training for this job.

HAROLD WARD: She couldn't reach the throttle very well, so I even put an extension on the throttle pedal that was made a little special for her.

ROBE IMBRIANO: For almost 20 years, Wynona Ward was a truck driver, along with her husband, Harold.

HAROLD: Wynona and I ran team, running a lot in New England, then we started running coast to coast. We moved a lot of theater shows, CATS, LE MIZ, a lot of ice shows for Disney. Moved the patriot missile launcher, basically anything that I could hook to the back of the truck.

WYNONA: We had a sleeper that was big enough so that we had a refrigerator, microwave, a sink a hanging closet. A big bed. We had our cat with us for over ten years.

HAROLD: I literally helped build this truck. Every work station, I was the helper. I know it's got over a million miles, I know that f0r a fact.

WYNONA: We've been married 33 years, and we were together five years before we were married.

HAROLD: We met as 8th graders in, I believe it was '64.

WYNONA: I was like, wow. Here I am living on the wrong side of the tracks in town, and this boy from up on the mountain wants to go steady with me. And what it ended up becoming was my way out of home.

ROBE IMBRIANO: Wynona was happy to get away from home, but most of all, she was happy to escape her father.

WYNONA: He had abused me, he had abused everybody in the family - all my siblings and my mother. When my father sexually abused me, it was very traumatic. But what was much more traumatic for me and much more difficult for me to deal with was when I watched him beat my mother, choke my mother, throw things at her. That was what was so traumatic.

ROBE IMBRIANO: But Harold didn't know.

WYNONA: We never talked about it because it wasn't acceptable and it was shameful. I certainly did not want Harold or anybody to know that I had been abused.

ROBE IMBRIANO: In fact, it was almost 25 years later before Harold found out. They were on the road, when Wynona got a call that her brother had abused a little girl in the family.

WYNONA: My reaction when I heard that my brother had done this was one of pain. Very very painful, because when we were children, small children, at least until I was ten years old, my brother and I were very close. We were buddies. And so it was very painful to learn that he had done this. But more than that it was painful for me to realize what this child had to be feeling. It took me back to my own childhood where I was abused in a very similar way. And I said, "it has to stop. It has to stop here. It can't keep going on."

ROBE IMBRIANO: Wynona worked to get her brother convicted, then to keep him in jail. She learned so much, one of the prosecutors suggested she go to law school. She got her college degree writing papers in the truck's sleeper cabin, and didn't decide to go to law school until she was in her mid-forties.

Now 50 and a practicing lawyer, Ward drives over 30,000 miles a year seeing hundreds of clients despite no funding from the state of Vermont.

WYNONA: I'm spending about half the amount of time, which is about 40 to 50 hours a week doing legal work, and then I spend somewhere around 30 to 40 hours a week doing administrative and grant writing and fundraising. Right now I have two attorneys and I have a paralegal and I have an administrative assistant - all who have empathy for victims if they weren't a victim themselves. I pay myself about 25,000 dollars a year.

ROBE IMBRIANO: Even if there were any restaurants nearby, the staff couldn't afford to eat out much. Wynona and Harold still work where they sleep, just like the old days in the truck. Only these days, she sleeps better. Despite the sacrifice - or maybe because of it - Wynona believes hers is a road more traveled.

WYNONA: Everyday in this country, we have more and more women that are working in social services, more women that are entering the legal field, more people that can have empathy for victims. And if you can have empathy for victims, then you can do what I do. Different donors have asked me, "well, how are you going to expand 'have justice'? There's only one Wynona." But I say to them, "no, you're wrong. There are many Wynonas out there."


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