Shel­ter named for do­mes­tic abuse vic­tim con­tin­ues to help Fresno women

The Fresno Bee - - Valley Voices - BY STEVE MAGARIAN

Forty years ago on Nov. 13, I found the life­less body of Mar­ja­ree Ma­son in the Fresno home of her ex-boyfriend. She was a vic­tim of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — dead at 36 with much to live for.

I was a lieu­tenant with the Fresno County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in November 1978, and I will never for­get that day. The hor­ri­ble de­tails are stamped on my brain — as they are for the sher­iff’s deputies who also were there. But the story of Mar­ja­ree Ma­son did not end with her sense­less death.

She was com­mit­ted to serv­ing oth­ers, and vol­un­teers in our com­mu­nity con­tin­ued that legacy by es­tab­lish­ing the Mar­ja­ree Ma­son Cen­ter in 1979. The cen­ter — which pro­vides hous­ing, coun­sel­ing and le­gal ser­vices to vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — played a cru­cial role as law en­force­ment be­came proac­tive in deal­ing with this crime.

When I started full time with the sher­iff’s of­fice in 1968, deputies re­ceived min­i­mal train­ing re­gard­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. Un­less one party had se­verely in­jured an­other, our stan­dard pro­ce­dure was to sep­a­rate them for a night.

We would ask whether a bat­tered woman could stay at a rel­a­tive’s home. Look­ing back, that re­sponse was in­ad­e­quate. But for many, many years, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence was seen as more of a fam­ily mat­ter than an is­sue need­ing the full weight of law en­force­ment.

Grad­u­ally, that be­gan to change. Cal­i­for­nia leg­is­la­tors started to se­ri­ously ad­dress do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. To­day, of­fi­cers are re­quired to take ac­tion. If they see ev­i­dence of abuse — the im­print of a hand on a face, a cut eye, a torn dress — they make an ar­rest. Re­ports must be sent to the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice for pos­si­ble pros­e­cu­tion.

With manda­tory re­port­ing, we’ve ba­si­cally gone 180 de­grees away from the past — and that’s a good thing. But some things don’t change. Many women still need a place to go as they plan the next step for them­selves and their chil­dren.

The Mar­ja­ree Ma­son Cen­ter — with 155 beds in its safe houses in Fresno and Clo­vis — is that place. Scores of fam­i­lies have found a bet­ter fu­ture while stay­ing there.

Now about Mar­ja­ree Ma­son. She died at the hands of a deputy sher­iff who took his own life, and her name has be­come a sym­bol of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. But first and fore- most, she was a beloved daugh­ter, sis­ter, aun­tie and mem­ber of this com­mu­nity. Her death does not de­fine her.

She was the el­dest daugh­ter in a fam­ily of nine chil­dren. Two of her younger si­b­lings, Lovern Parks and Al­fred Ma­son, both of Fresno, re­mem­ber that when their mother had to go out, she en­trusted the other chil­dren to Mar­ja­ree. She fed them. She dis­ci­plined them. She went to their schools when their mother could not.

When Mar­ja­ree kissed her si­b­lings, she left a big, red lip­stick mark on their cheeks. She marked their lives in other ways, as well. When Al­fred mar­ried in his ju­nior year at San Jose State and be­came a fa­ther his se­nior year, he con­sid­ered quit­ting school be­cause of fam­ily obli­ga­tions. You can’t, Mar­ja­ree told him. She said she’d do what­ever she could to help him. Al­fred grad­u­ated and be­came an of­fi­cer and then a sergeant with the San Jose Po­lice Depart­ment. He re­tired af­ter 28 years and re­turned to Fresno.

Be­fore Mar­ja­ree died, she was study­ing for her de­gree at Fresno State, in­spired by what she said


her “lit­tle brother” had achieved.

Mar­ja­ree’s fam­ily has sup­ported the cen­ter from the be­gin­ning, and 40 years later re­mains com­mit­ted to its ex­pand­ing mis­sion. Lovern is pleased that the cen­ter of­fers court-or­dered classes for bat­ter­ers and a pro­gram to teach teens about dat­ing vi­o­lence. Over the years, she’s grown close to chil­dren at the safe houses, and the mem­o­ries of those ten­der re­la­tion­ships bring tears to her eyes.

Mar­ja­ree’s legacy has con­tin­ued to other generations of the Ma­son fam­ily. Al­fred’s son, Khaneal, re­cently grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in psy­chol­ogy with plans to get a master’s de­gree and be­come a fam­ily therapist. Al­though he never knew his aunt, Khaneal pointed to heaven and said, “Aunt Mar­jee would be proud of me, Dad.”

Steve Magarian served as Fresno County Sher­iff from 1987 to 1999.

Cour­tesy of the Ma­son fam­ily

Nov. 13 marks the 40th an­niver­sary of Mar­ja­ree Ma­son’s death in a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ci­dent. A Fresno shel­ter for abused women was named af­ter Ma­son.

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