Ebony Coleman never knows who’s on the other end of the phone when she answers the Victim Assistance Program 24/7 hotline.
As a hotline advocate, Ebony hears from victims of violence who want information about protection orders, men and women who may have a friend or relative in crisis and want to know how they can help, a crime victim concerned about a court appearance and anyone else who takes a first step by making the phone ring.
Sometimes the call is as simple as providing a phone number for another agency. Sometimes she guides a domestic violence victim through the task of making a safety plan, asking questions in a way that the victim is empowered to make decisions.
Occasionally, she is a reassuring voice for a parent who is grieving a child.
“Moms who lose a child – those calls stand out the most,” Ebony said.
Ebony keeps her focus during calls by doodling on a legal pad she keeps nearby. The intensity of the call can be seen in the shade and lines of the doodles.
Pencil points are broken on calls from moms who bury their children.
Ebony can hear the anguish in the mother’s voice when she talks about her son. “He was not a bad kid,” Mom says. “He got caught up in a bad situation.”
“I can understand that,” Ebony replied, the frenzy of the circles on the paper contradicting her soothing voice.
Ebony has two kids, both preteens. The motion of the pencil on the paper keeps her focused on the caller. It keeps her thinking, “How can I help her?” instead of, “What would I do if it was one of mine?”
She listens to the woman talk about her son, blaming herself because she let him stay out later that night with his friends. She tells the mom it wasn’t her fault. When mom finally says goodbye, Ebony invites her to call back.
She needs a moment to herself after this call.
“You want to believe you’re protecting your kids,” Ebony said. “Then everything you learn about life and death gets turned upside down. You’re not supposed to bury your kids.”