Fighting Back: From domestic violence victim to community mentor

  • Raymond police investigator Rick Labell shares his childhood experiences of domestic violence with sixth graders and their parents during a “€œProject Safeguard”€ conference at Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua last month. Elizabeth Frantz / For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell shares his childhood experiences with domestic violence with sixth graders and their parents during a “Project Safeguard” conference at Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell shares his childhood experiences with domestic violence with sixth graders and their parents during a “Project Safeguard” conference at Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell stands for a portrait in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell shares his childhood experiences with domestic violence with sixth graders and their parents during a “Project Safeguard” conference at Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell shares his childhood experiences with domestic violence with sixth graders and their parents during a “Project Safeguard” conference at Immaculate Conception Parish in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

  • Raymond Police investigator Rick Labell in Nashua on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz) Elizabeth Frantz—For the Monitor

Monitor staff
Published: 2/5/2019 6:18:08 PM

As a young boy, Rick Labell tried to drown out the sound of shattering glass with his favorite Beatles records.

Music transported him from his first-floor bedroom in Newton to a happier place – a place free from his father’s violent attacks and his mother’s tearful screams.

“My mother endured 12 years of domestic violence at the hands of my dad,” Labell, a Raymond police detective said. “It affected me a lot growing up. I always had that feeling of inadequacy – like I was never good enough. I had low self-esteem as a child and as a teenager, and it took me a long time to get beyond that.”

Labell, now 62, remembers most clearly the fight that broke out one day in June 1964 – the day police took his father away in handcuffs and his mother left 27 Pond St., for good.

The deeply personal story is one he shares often to help educate New Hampshire’s school children about domestic violence and co-occurring drug and alcohol abuse. He wants them to hear firsthand from a man who grew up in a broken home but insisted on creating a different life for himself and his children. With more than three decades of service in law enforcement, Labell remains committed to helping stop the cycle of abuse in the Granite State.

During a recent daylong “Project Safeguard” conference in Nashua focused on substance abuse prevention, he told St. Christopher School’s sixth-graders that no matter their circumstances, they too can be successful in life if they maintain a positive attitude and make healthy choices that keep them focused on fulfilling their dreams.

“It’s not easy to relive that fight on 27 Pond St., every time I speak with kids at schools, but I also know that my experience is helping other people,” he said in a prior interview. “And, verbalizing my own trauma and what I’ve learned on the job has helped me tremendously, too.”

Labell was just 8 years old when he awoke that June morning in 1964 to a “tremendous crash” in the kitchen, a short walk from his bedroom. It was roughly 2 a.m.

“I saw the stove had been turned over on its face. I looked beyond the stove and saw my mother seated at the kitchen table crying and screaming – trying to escape the wrath of my father as he poured down over her in a drunken rage.”

He watched as his mother shoved back in an attempt to escape to her bedroom. But Labell said his father regained his balance and attacked.

“I watched him grab her by the hair, grab her by the arm and slam her back down onto the kitchen table. I became very, very frightened for my mom and angry at my dad. I latched onto my father and started beating on him and begging him, ‘Please dad, leave mom alone! Please leave mom alone!’ ” he recalled. “With one stroke of his hand, he pushed me up against the kitchen sink.”

At his mother’s urging, Labell ran back to his bedroom. Within seconds, he heard the sound of shattering glass as the dishes and cups stored on a stand by the kitchen sink fell to the floor. Ignoring the broken glass, his father threw a few punches at the fridge and then opened it to retrieve a cold beer.

A knock sounded on Labell’s bedroom window minutes later, and his mother called his name from outside. She was prepared to walk to a nearby store to call the town’s police chief to file an official report.

Labell told sixth-graders that after that day he didn’t see his father again for 10 years. At age 18, he drove to Rochester to visit with the intent of forging a relationship. But his father wasn’t interested and never had been, he said: “My dad gave me his name and that was it – he just walked away.”

One student approached Labell after the hour-long presentation to ask about what had happened to his father: Had he ever gone to jail for his crimes? Labell said he didn’t know.

For a long time, Labell didn’t feel he had anyone to talk to about the secondary trauma he suffered growing up in an abusive home. He said neighbors saw police cars in the driveway all the time, but no one ever intervened or offered their help.

With his mother and brothers, Labell moved to a third-floor apartment in Haverhill, Mass. There, he friended the landlord’s 18-year-old son who also lived in the apartment building. But one Friday night, things changed between them; Labell said the teenager took him outside, forced him to the backseat of a vehicle and sexually assaulted him.

“I didn’t talk about that until I was 42 years old. He said, ‘You can’t tell anyone, Ricky. I’ll tell your mother and she’ll kick you out of the house so you won’t have a place to live,’ ” Labell recalled.

A similar assault happened two more times.

Labell said he realized he had suppressed years of trauma, which boiled to the surface through this work on abuse investigations in the four New Hampshire communities he served.

“It was always in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until I became a police officer that I had to really confront it,” he said. “I responded to domestic violence calls and worked on sexual assault investigations, and I returned home to sit in a chair and shake. I thought my law enforcement career was over.”

A psychologist friend first recommended that he talk about his experiences as a victim, first with family members and close friends. He then realized the potential in his stories to help others.

“It all changed for me when I realized I wasn’t alone and that I could make a difference.”

On those tougher days, he retreats to the one thing that was a constant in his childhood: music. He puts his headphones over his ears and drifts away for hours, listening to the songs of his favorite rock-and-roll bands. The familiar lyrics refocus him and remind him of how far he’s come.




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