Free speech is a glorious thing.
If you have never read one of my articles before, this is the sixth installment of a series entitled, "Small Towns, Big Secrets." It examines domestic abuse in small-town America, narrated through the stories of Mae Matthews, Lynn Mitchell, and their abuser, Cody Smith.
My previous articles focused on Mae's 4-year-long relationship with Cody. In that period, she was beaten within an inch of her life multiple times, was isolated from her friends and family, and had two pregnancies with him. Her first child, Abigail, developed the severest form of Spina Bifida and Mae had to have an induced miscarriage. Their second child, Giovanni, was born premature but has grown into a healthy, happy, and handsome little boy.
Mae found the strength to leave after an altercation where Cody slammed her against the wall while she was holding their 5-week-old premature baby in her arms. When she left their home that day, she would never look back.
"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations." - George Orwell
I now know that Cody is reading these articles. I woke up to a flurry of screenshots from his page, including one where he tagged 50 people and a random business claiming that Odyssey "makes money off of fake stories."
The thing is, I'm not surprised in the slightest. I suspected going into this that at some point we would receive pushback from him. That is why I will never use real names, locations, or dates.
And, to be clear, Odyssey does not make money off of "fake stories." Everything I have written about is either public record or backed up by multiple sources.
Writing "Small Towns, Big Secrets" has been a therapeutic experience for Mae and Lynn. Mae spent four years of her life in a constant state of turmoil and anxiety. Sharing her story has given her a sense of relief that she hadn't felt in a long time. While Lynn was with Cody for only two months, she, too, was living with the effects of abuse.
This series was never meant to bash or hurt Cody and his family, hence the use of pseudonyms. It is an outlet for Mae and Lynn's stories and for other domestic violence survivors to know they are not alone.
Now that he has taken ownership of his role in these articles, he and his family have turned it into a joke, resulting in an attack on Mae's appearance and the doubling down of appreciation posts and photos.
In slamming me and Odyssey as a whole, you just admitted your guilt.
However, you do have a constitutional right to claim these articles are "fake news."
And I have a constitutional right to share what YOU did to these women on whatever platform I choose. No matter what you say, no matter what you do, we will not be silenced. I will be finishing this series and you cannot stop me.
After the final incident, Cody was arrested and eventually indicted. Mae handed over her phone, which had 14,000 text messages between the two of them and 4,000 between Mae and his family, who instantly turned against Mae when she left.
The Smith Family is well acquainted with violence.
I have concrete evidence regarding their violent behavior. Originally, I had planned on including that public information (again without using real names, locations, or dates), but on reflection thought better of it. As I said before, "Small Towns, Big Secrets" is not a hit piece. The main objective is to give voices back to domestic violence survivors and give hope to those who've experienced it. While The Smith family is quick to harass, they weren't the ones that laid their hands on Mae and Lynn. Cody did.
When Mae left, his family went into crisis mode. They began harassing Mae, saying they would make it so she would never see Giovanni ever again. They called her every name in the book and spread lies about her claiming she was an unfit mother.
The day she left, she drove to her mother's. From there, it was decided that she and Giovanni would stay at her father's house as Cody did not know where he lived. When they arrived at his house, they called the police and the case began.
A few days into their stay at her father's, Child Protective Services arrived. Mae fell to the floor in tears, all the times his family told her she would never see her son again came crashing down to her reality. She was petrified that they would take her child away.
But lies have no place in our justice system.
It was clear to the caseworker that this was a false report, initiated in retaliation for Cody's arrest. Giovanni was not taken away, and that same caseworker helped in his indictment. Cody accepted a plea deal where he served 6-months in county jail and a 13-year order of protection was put in place for Mae and Giovanni.
Mae escaped from the clutches of Cody's abuse. But she would not be his last victim.
Lynn Mitchell was working at a store in her town. She was well acquainted with the regulars, so she took notice of this tall, dark, and handsome young man who walked in. He was charming, funny, attractive, and made her feel like the most beautiful and special girl in the world. She is the first to admit that she was a willing participant in his affection. She found and friend-requested him on Facebook, she messaged him, and they began a flirty relationship.
Their first night together, he told her that he had been released from prison recently. He explained to her that his ex-girlfriend was obsessed with him and she was vindictively keeping his son away from him. He did not mention an order of protection. He would go on to say how much he ached for his son and that he was doing everything he could to provide and get him back.
These were lies.
But Lynn was in love. In the roughly two months that they were together, Lynn spent nearly all of her free time with Cody and spent most nights at his house. The first time she witnessed his violent tendencies was when the two were driving. He got mad at something she said and began repeatedly punching the steering wheel.
Before I continue with Lynn's story I need to first say that the charges eventually brought against Cody in regards to Lynn were dismissed. There was not enough evidence on either side for the judge to move forward.
Early on in their short courtship, Cody began "wrestling" with Lynn. He would slap her and punch her legs, grab her and hold her down. Lynn is a small woman, and he is a very large man. His "wrestling" left bruises. When she showed them to him, he just told her to say it was from rough sex. Which, she did when her sister and mother noticed the marks.
Lynn also took a pregnancy test which was positive. We do not know if this was a false positive or not, but she was late for her period and when it eventually came. It was extremely heavy and filled with clots.
Both Mae and Lynn shared similar stories about Cody's desire to be a father. After they would sleep with him, he wouldn't allow them to shower or go to the bathroom. He would say, "let it marinate." When they thought Lynn was pregnant, he told his little sister that "there's a baby in her belly."
Mae had two pregnancies, Lynn had a positive pregnancy test, and his current girlfriend is due in a few weeks.
When you have a child, you are forever connected to the other parent. That may sound like an obvious statement but think of it in terms of domestic abuse. When an abuser impregnates his victim, that child is half his, so he will believe he has more control over the mother than ever before. And when that baby is born, he has a right to be involved with the child.
But, as stated in my last article, when you are an abuser, you lose that right.
The incident that made Lynn leave Cody happened in front of his mother. The two were lying on the couch in the living room when Cody pulled Lynn on top of him and put her in a chokehold. From where they were lying, Lynn could see his mother out of the corner of her eyes. She looked terrified. Cody was telling Lynn to "tap out" which she eventually did but hesitated. Why should she have to tap out when she couldn't breathe and was trying to tell him to stop? This wasn't a game, she was trying to tell him he was hurting her. That should have been enough for him to stop. Throughout the ordeal, Cody's mother and his toddler sister were screaming at him to stop. "She can't breathe Cody! Let her go, let her go!" they both exclaimed. She eventually "tapped out" and it was then that Lynn started to wonder if maybe Cody had been lying about what happened to Mae.
A couple of weeks later Lynn sent Mae this Facebook message.
"I've seen the side of Cody that you've seen."
Mae was hesitant at first. She didn't know this person, and the last she had heard, Cody and Lynn were dating. Mae is a very cautious person and she was afraid this was a setup by Cody and his family. Through their discussion, Mae eventually believed her. Lynn talked about the incident above and Mae helped her through the process of reporting his abuse to the police. They became friends on Facebook and developed a bond that will last a lifetime.
As soon as Cody's family saw that the two were Facebook friends, he and his family began harassing Lynn. His father wrote false complaints to her manager at work. The day the police report was filed, Cody's current girlfriend showed up at her job and Cody called Lynn's mother to say that she was crazy and should be hospitalized. His family also sent threatening messages to her family.
While there is not an order of protection for Lynn, it is outlined in his felony probation that he can't have any communication with her. Lynn filed the police report two months after the incident which made it hard to have a solid case, resulting in the dismissal for lack of evidence on both sides.
Since the publishing of this series, Cody has messaged Lynn's boyfriend on Facebook saying that she is spreading lies about him, he has parked his car in the middle of the street in front of her boyfriend's house, he has screamed obscenities out of his car at her while outside at her job, and continues to post statuses clearly about her.
I love writing, and sharing Mae's and Lynn's stories has been my greatest honor.
When I started this journey I had no idea the impact it would have. Two articles of "Small Towns, Big Secrets" have been featured on Odyssey's home page, they have been read by more people than I anticipated, and the best part is that Mae and I have heard from domestic violence survivors who found solace in their stories.
The most powerful tool a survivor has is their story, and I will never stop sharing their voices.