Saundra Crockett was spending a comfortable afternoon in her house, enjoying the company of her children. She was looking back on her life and was reminiscing the time when times weren’t that great. To an extent, it was the most horrible experience she had gone through. Holding a sob back in her throat and while she looked at her children, she wasn’t going to let something horrible happen to them.
Thinking back to those moments, she never felt so afraid for her life and more importantly the life of her children. She did not know that her life would change in the most drastic way. Her was not the same ever again.
Saundra, born in Korea, came from a large family of 12 children. However, she only knew a few of them because most died even before she was born. During her early years, her father was the closes person she had in her life. She shared in a talk, “He would take me hiking. He loved mountain climbing.”
From age one to four, Saundra had a great childhood because of the presence of her dad. “I had a father that loved me”, she shared. However, a great sadness washed over her life when she was four years old. The only person she loved left her.
Saundra and her father were spending a normal afternoon, playing and talking when her father collapsed on the ground. Panicked, she ran towards him and tried to wake him up. Little did she know that it was the last time she would be spending with her favorite person in the world. He died because of a heart attack and that was the beginning of the changes in her life.
Because of the death of their patriarch, Saundra’s mother thought that she deserved a better life than the one she has now. Due to this reason, she was sent to Saundra’s sister and husband in the United States to seek greener pastures. Although the circumstance of her leaving was sad, she looked forward to a new life.
Her sister’s husband was an American who was in service and was able to afford her a better life. She shared, “We traveled all over the world. He was, at first, a great father, from what I thought a father was”. He would help her with her homework, drive her to school, and the mundane things a father would do.
She thought he was a great father figure despite her situation. Later on, she realized that he wasn’t the man she thought she knew at all. In her words, “He was a great manipulator” and things had gone downhill from then.
Her father-figure made sure that she got the best treatment when it comes to school and Saundra’s daily life. They spend time together playing catch and maybe go for treats and such. However, his motives were not of the good kind but it was something so horrible that it affected Saundra’s life permanently.
“He would manipulate me into thinking that he loved me, and because he loved me it was okay for him to molest me”, Saundra shared while choking back tears. She felt ashamed and guilty because of how she felt towards him and this started her burden of guilt that she carried all the way.
Saundra could not take it anymore because it was eating her up inside. At that moment, she plucked up the courage to tell her sister. Thinking that her sister would have her back, she was appalled by her sister’s reaction. It was way worse than what the husband had done to Saundra because she felt betrayed and forgotten.
She denied it because she did not have the mental and emotional capacity to deal with it. This started a deeply instilled hatred in Saundra’s heart for her sister and the husband. The only situation that would benefit her was to run away but she couldn’t.
Finally, at the age of twelve, her sister and her husband got divorced and to start a new beginning the sisters moved to California. Starting afresh, the sister needed to find a job after ten years of being a housewife. This left Saundra alone to take herself to school, cook her meals, buy groceries, and whatnot. She grew up independently and alone while her sister bring in the money.
To cope with her loneliness she would read romance novels which were her form of escape. Because of her interest in these novels, her goal in life was to find the perfect husband that would save her and take care of her during tough times. I needed to find the “Perfect Man” that would change my life for the better, she thought.
At the age of sixteen, Saundra met a great-looking man who she fancied a lot. They got together and she even came to the conclusion that she loved him deeply. Thinking that this was her romance-novel moment, she ran away with her guy and lived a life on the streets. Because of not having a stable environment, she started doing drugs and all kinds of vices.
“Living in the streets, there are some horrible things that could happen to you, and the horrible things that can happen to you happened to me,” Saundra said. She didn’t see a better life for her, so she continued to numb the pain inside her by continuing her life on the streets. When she turned nineteen, she had her daughter hoping that it would be a start of a new beginning, but this was not the case.
Having her daughter somehow intensified her pain because she did not want to drag another life in with hers. She thought, “I was not cut out to be a parent and I did not want to be a parent and I just wanted the pain to stop”.
Her relationship with her daughter’s father was also on the brink of failing. She couldn’t care less if he walked out on them meaning she did not feel an ounce of affection towards him which made it worse.
Moving on from her previous relationship, she fell in love with another man. Saundra thought, “he was really different and this time he was going to love me and take care of me.” Both of them were in the habit of doing drugs and it was too late before Saundra realized that he wasn’t different at all.
On her twenty-eighth birthday, she caught him with another woman. Furious and depressed, she confronted him, but this didn’t turn in her favor. Saundra felt a hard fist plant on her face and kept beating her until she was unconscious. This left her on the streets beaten and bruised.
His husband was an ex-Marine 6 ft guy and had a muscular build. Compared to her, she was a frail young woman with nothing to defend herself. Her face was severely beaten up, swollen and at one point, infected. Saundra said, “He hit me so hard. I believe it started an internal infection”. She was brought to the hospital to get treatment, but it wasn’t a speedy recovery.
Six months…That’s how long Saundra spent in the hospital trying to recover from her injuries. In addition, she had to bring her two children with her the youngest being two years old. Because of the disfigurement oh her face, she was unrecognizable, even her own son was afraid to look at her.
She shared in an interview with CBS Los Angeles, ” The first hospital said, you know, you only have three days to live and you probably won’t make it”. The doctors and staff were doing the best they can to contain and heal the infection but the doctors had low hopes.
She wasn’t sure if she was going to make it and even Saundra had lost hope. Worrying about her life and her children, all she could do was hope for the best.
There came to a point that her children would not come near her because they were scared. This brought Saundra so much pain that she could not bear it. Reflecting on her life decisions, she divorced the man who assaulted her and got away. However she said, ” Dealing with the loss of my face was incredibly, incredibly difficult”.
During her stay in the hospital, she had to endure up to twenty-six surgeries and even had a tube in her stomach and throat. The experience was so traumatic that she needed to wear a mask for twelve years. This was the only way she could live with her children.
Caring for your children without a face must be one of the difficult things do to as a mother. Saundra felt awful when her children couldn’t even recognize her. “They could here my voice so they knew who I was but they didn’t know who I was because of my face”, she shared.
She chose to keep her face hidden from her children so that they wouldn’t be afraid or scared. The only solution to her problem was to wear a face mask 24/7.
Each and every day, she would be wearing a surgical mask to hide her face. “I ate with it, I slept with it. I did what I normally do with a surgical mask”. It was her way of hiding from her kids, her job, and everyone else in her world. In addition to her burden, she still continued to use drugs to reach rock bottom.
She had another son with a different relationship and during that time, she lost everything. Saundra didn’t have a home, her kids were taken away from her, and she had nothing else to lose. However, an unexpected person saved her from herself and her situation.
There was one moment when Saundra fell down a flight of stairs and a stranger rushed to her to help. A real estate agent talked to her and invited her to go to church. Without anything to lose, Saundra agreed and went to the Center’s Prayer.
At first, she did not know what she was doing there and why would she go there. That started her faith journey with God although it was not easy. Despite having her children taken away, she was also arrested because of neglect, possesions of drugs, etc.
During her court hearing, she was surprised to see two ladies from her church present. She did not even know these people and yet they were there when she needed someone the most. She started to feel love and supported by her church community which turned her life around.
For six years she lived with one of the women who supported her during that tough time. During that time ,she gave birth to another baby girl and this time it was different. She didn’t feel resentment over her children anymore. She truly loved them and cared for them.
The love and grace that she had received slowly built up Saundra’s self-esteem. In one retreat that she attended, a pastor from Thailand prayed over her. The only words he spoke were, “God loves you”. Saundra had heard this phrase spoken to her before but it never sunk in until that moment.
She felt loved and at peace with herself and she finally took off the surgical mask to reveal her true face without being ashamed of who she is. It was one of the most significant moments of her life and she never put that masked on again.
The mask acts as her security blanket because it was a form of escape from her past traumas that kept her from moving forward. Because of her brave step, she was able to confront her feelings and started to move forward to lead a better life for herself and for her children.
Saundra accepted her new self with the support of others which led her to go back to school and later on, back to work. She never thought she could be in a position like this in her life, from living on the streets and losing her children. It was the greatest moment of her life!
After 12 years of wearing a mask, Saundra has bravely spoken about the abuses that she had with her husband. It still reminds her of the pain, but she had learned to voice out her experiences. By that time, she discovered that she was not the only one who suffered and got hurt.
When Saundra’s life turned for the better, she wasn’t most proud of the great job or the nice house but it was the ability to be a source of change and grace for other people as well. She found an organization that helps victims of domestic violence to heal physically and emotionally. She realizes that she is not alone and is never alone.
Saundra, who is now an advocate against domestic violence, hopes to be an example for other people. She said that if she had a chance to talk to one person and give them hope, she would tell them that this does not have to happen.
She is discerning that it is now her job to speak out justice to her fellow victims and guide them too in their journey as they altogether heal from the blemishes of the past. She’s willing to pay it forward.
Saundra became a member of the Face Forward organization, which provides free reconstructive surgeries to physically abused women. The organization has helped hundreds of women already, which has also included Saundra on the list.
Before the surgery, Saundra said that she could not close her left eye or open her mouth wide enough to eat. This made her everyday tasks very challenging that would even affect her health in some way.
Because of the permanent damage to Saundra’s face, her children cannot even recognize her. She explains that how she looks today has been much better than how she looked before these surgery. The Face Forward organization has been part of her life and she chooses to help other in the same situation.
She’s thankful that the organization has aided her towards bettering her perspectives in life after her greatest nightmare. After undergoing surgeries, all the patients are still required to complete therapies because surgeries are only part of the healing process.
Mrs. Deborah Alessi the founder of Face Forward started this organization to help hundreds of domestic abuse victims move on with their live. As a fellow victim, she believes it is her responsibility to help women at a time of crisis.
In seven years, they have aided women with free facial reconstruction due to severe physical abuse. “They have to look in the mirror and be reminded that this man or this woman or this mother did this to me”, Alessi shared with CBS.
The Face Forward organization has been gathering so many members and the first to step in is no other than the husband, Dr. David Alessi. He performs surgeries for the organization free of charge. Saundra is one of the many women who are grateful for this great opportunity.
Deborah also shares that reconstructive surgery is only part of the healing. Included in their program to help women like Saundra, therapy was a crucial part of recovery. In fact, all of their patients needed to unergo therapy in addition to the surgery.
For Saundra, the surgery grealty helped her feel more at ease with herself and not seeing the abuse everyday on the mirror. She can now freely flaunt her face, and she does not need to wear a mask anymore. Her confidence in herself came back and she is ready to face new life.
All the surgeries and therapies that the Face Forward organization gives are for free. However, there is one important condition that they need to follow before getting the help.
All patients must sign a form saying they need to pay it forward. Once they have already completed their surgeries and therapies, they must be an advocate against domestic violence.
Deborah Alessi stated that there’s no better reward than seeing her patients begin to heal for the founder of the organization, who is also a victim of domestic violence herself.
Saundra had faced a great life terror, but this did not hinder her from moving forward. She treated her own experiences positively to inform and inspire other people. She has welcomed healing in her life, and she is continuing to become better than she was before.
She has never imagined that someone she loved so dearly has shattered her life forever. Hence, she still looked at the brighter side because she believed there would always be light at the end of the dark road.
All women deserve to be loved and appreciated. A woman is a symbol of beauty and not a venue for performing domestic violence. Women are strong and always know how to back it up.
We should not be blinded by the smiles of women who are victims of abuse because deep inside those smiles are hurtful memories and emotional scars of the past that have been speaking up for justice. We should know that women should be protected at all costs.
Saundra’s life have been through the dirt and back starting from losing her father and moving to a strange new country. Growing up, she must have experienced so much hurt where it can be hard to keep going. She owes her life to her faith as well as to the people who stepped up and helped her through the toughest moments of her life.
She hopes that women like her would not give up just like she didn’t. Saundra lives her life with her beautiful and precious children, making it an effort to pay it forward especially to those who are in need. Her story had started in the wrong path but she is definitely on the right one.