YORK, Maine — A former York resident and mother of two minor children says she will go to jail in March to bring awareness of the problem of domestic abuse.
Heather Caldwell-Mason, 44, of Iowa said she will turn herself in on an arrest warrant from York District Court and serve seven days in jail during her spring break from college in Iowa starting Monday, March 25.
The reason she’s going to jail is her refusal to comply with a court order to disclose where she and the children are living, for fear of her former husband knowing the address, she said.
“I wouldn’t release my address to an abuser,” she said. “I’m afraid of him. I refuse to give a physical address to a man who has abused me and my children.”
Family and friends will look after her children while she’s in jail, she said.
“I very much want to serve my jail sentence,” Caldwell-Mason said. “I don’t want it to go unnoticed. I want it to be known this is happening in Maine. I know this is just not happening to me. I’m going to jail not just for myself, but for all women.”
On Jan. 2, York District Court Judge Michael Cantara issued an order for a warrant of arrest against Caldwell-Mason, ordering her to serve seven days in York County Jail and pay $1,500, due Jan. 18. The judge found her in contempt of court for failing to appear for a scheduled family hearing that same day.
“For no good reason,” Cantara said in the order, Caldwell-Mason has ignored and failed to comply with an August order to keep the children in York County.
Caldwell-Mason claims her former husband subjected the family to emotional and verbal abuse, and their children also to physical abuse.
Attorney James Smith of Biddeford, representing the ex-husband, denies Caldwell-Mason’s claims.
There are no charges against his client, said Smith, a statement confirmed by Caldwell-Mason, which is why he is not being named in this story.
“[My client] does not want Heather Caldwell-Mason to go to jail. He wants to see his children,” said Smith. “She is doing a disservice to women of domestic violence by portraying herself as a domestic violence victim.”
In 2003, a caseworker from the state Department of Human Services, Bureau of Child and Family Services, sent a letter to Caldwell-Mason’s former husband, while the couple was still married. The department substantiated “physical abuse” to the children who had disclosed, “that you had spanked them on more than one occasion and that red marks remained afterwards,” the caseworker said, according to the letter.
Smith said his client, “did not take it as seriously as he should have at the time.”
His client never appealed the decision, he said.
“This is the one thing she has that she keeps putting out,” Smith said.
The couple divorced in 2005. His client lives in York County, though not in York, said Smith.
Under state law, a parent may not relocate children without the consent of the other parent or approval of the court, according to an August 2012 court order on the case. However, Caldwell-Mason notified her ex-husband she was moving and taking their 14-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son to Iowa while travelling to that state, according to the order from Judge Andre Janelle. She was ordered to immediately return to York County until the court could conduct a hearing.
Smith said his client received an email in June 2012 that Caldwell-Mason was taking the children to live in Iowa, during a time when he was seeing them every other weekend and on Wednesday nights for dinner.
“My client hasn’t seen his kids since August 10. She just thumbed her nose at the court,” Smith said. “We filed a motion for contempt.”
Caldwell-Mason said she has offered her ex-husband visitation rights, but what he really wants is to retain control over the family.
She has remarried; Smith said his client has moved on and only wants to see his children.
Smith, who has been representing his client since 2008, said when he first got involved, the case was a matter of adjusting child support.
“In the hearings on support, she never talked about domestic or child abuse,” he said. “The allegations of abuse began later on.”
Smith has indicated it has taken distance to come to terms with what happened, and to heal.
A domestic violence hot line coordinator said she could make no comment on a specific case. However, in general, it’s not unusual for victims of domestic abuse to keep quiet, said Betsy Fleurent, a volunteer and hot line program coordinator for Caring Unlimited. To survive, especially if the male abuser is the breadwinner, many victims do not go to the police, she said.
“Most is not reported,” she said. “Control over someone is not a crime.”
Caldwell-Mason has been representing herself, and after the judge issued the order for her arrest, sent out a press release saying she would go to jail. She wrote to Gov. Paul LePage’s office asking to be released into his custody, a request denied by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, she said.