Airman makes new life after family's abuse
By Air Force Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey
92nd Air Refueling Wing
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chandra Towns, the 92nd Operations Support Squadron aviation resource manager at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., overcame physical and sexual abuse to become a successful airman, mother and wife. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey.
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — A young girl mistakenly brought her mother milk instead of baby formula. Fuming, the mother dragged the girl into the bathroom and repeatedly hit her with a towel rod until the girl collapsed into a bruise-covered heap on the floor.
That was the first time she was brutally beaten by her mother.
“I was just seven years old the first time it happened; it traumatized me,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chandra Towns, the 92nd Operations Support Squadron aviation resource manager here. “But that wasn’t the end of it. My mother kept doing it, and I had to live through four more years of that from her.”
Chandra’s life had a rocky start.
“My parents were on drugs and living on the streets of Los Angeles, so I ended up staying with my grandparents as an infant until I was seven,” Towns said. “I liked it there. I loved it when my grandfather would tell me stories of his adventures serving in the military and it made me want to serve, too.”
After her grandfather passed away and her grandmother became unable to support her, Towns was handed over to live with her mother and four younger siblings.
“I was isolated from my siblings much of the time and often was punished for things they did,” Towns said. “I often ended up taking care of them by feeding them, cleaning up and giving baths. They would call me ‘mom’ sometimes.”
Being the oldest made Towns the outlet of her mother’s anger, frustration and hurt. Her mother inflicted emotional, verbal and physical abuse, but Towns was also sexually molested by her mother’s live-in boyfriend.
“I was really afraid of my mother; I always felt scared and alone living with her,” Towns said. “I remember crying every night before going to sleep, because I wanted so badly to go back to Grandma. I felt like she had abandoned me.”
Coping With Abuse
Towns focused on schoolwork and played outside as much as she could to avoid her life at home. Good grades gave a sense of accomplishment and helping out other kids let her feel good about herself.
“I kept busy and focused on what mattered to me most, my future,” she said. “I wanted to be a policewoman or a soldier as a kid because I loved to help others and it felt good to aspire to do something meaningful.”
She eventually turned to reading, writing and faith to help cope.
“At first I read and drew to escape my mother’s rages and rants. I loved Dr. Seuss and ‘Goosebumps’ books,” Towns said. “Later, I fell in love with creative writing in school, and I wrote stories and journals to stay sane. My faith also helped me out a lot. Knowing God had a plan for me helped immensely, and I prayed every day.”
Finally, Town’s sixth grade English teacher, Ms. Branch, refused to believe the cookie-cutter excuses when she showed up to school with a third black eye.
“Thank God for teachers caring and paying attention to students,” Towns said. “I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted.”
Child Protective Services reacted quickly by putting Towns and her siblings into foster care the same day.
The Cycle Continued
Towns still didn’t find solace in the foster care system, however. She was again abused at her new foster mother’s home where she and her younger sister were placed.
“Living with her felt like living in prison as everything I did was wrong or criticized,” Towns said. “Accomplishments in school were diminished or cut short or sabotaged. I kept trying hard. I just wanted to do well and be proud of something, but my foster mom refused to let me and couldn’t tell me why.”
After everything she’d been through, she lost the will to go on and considered suicide at the age of 16.
“I grabbed a big knife and sat in my room and contemplated how to kill myself with it, but my thoughts kept straying to what I wanted and my future,” Towns said. “I didn’t want what I was going through, nor did I wish to fall into drugs and prostitution like others did. No, I wanted to join the military and have my own family. Those good thoughts pulled me away from killing myself.”
Turning Her Life Around
Towns ran away from her foster home as soon as she turned 18 and escaped to Texas, where she realized her dream of serving in the military like her grandfather.
“Joining the Air Force is the best decision I made, and it’s been good to me,” Towns said. “It has given me a sense of purpose and meaning to my life, as well as a connection with others I didn’t have before.”
Despite the military giving her a sense of belonging, her past kept her distrustful and distant from peers until she met Hasim Towns, an Army infantryman, while on deployment to support Afghan pilot training in Herat province, Afghanistan.
“We met at the gate where he worked security and started talking,” Towns said. “My coworkers caught wind of it and started to arrange things to make us spend time together. I’m happy they did so.”
Hasim learned of Chandra’s past traumas as she slowly opened up to him.
“I have found that people who have suffered abuse can easily spot insincerity,” said Hasim Towns, now a Deaconess Hospital security officer in Spokane. “So, I worked to be an example. I wanted to help her realize that if I could be sincere and kind to her, then perhaps others could, as well.”
Hasim returned home from deployment first, then surprised Chandra by showing up with a ring and marriage proposal upon her arrival home in the spring of 2014. Hasim and Chandra Towns married shortly thereafter and had their first child, Sarai, in 2015, with another child on the way this year.
After years of staying distant from everyone, Chandra said her husband’s support and encouragement was the key to helping her open up and grow.
“I was afraid of being betrayed and I did not want to feel that way again, so I likely came off as aloof and standoffish, cold and closed-off,” Towns said. “I’m not as haunted by my past as I used to be. I’m going back to therapy and trying to be more open about sharing my experiences with other people.”
Towns shared her story of enduring abuse and her journey to overcome it for the first time during a storytelling session with fellow airmen.
“I first heard Tech. Sgt. Towns’ story when she spoke at a Wingman Day storytelling session,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Bruton, the 92nd Mission Support Group superintendent. “Her openness, humility and vulnerability in front of airmen from across the wing was amazing. After she spoke, people there began to open up and publicly share their own personal stories of overcoming adversity.”
Hope for the Future
Becoming a noncommissioned officer and a mother put Towns in a position to influence others and be the kind of parent she never had. Seeing much of herself in her daughter, she has the opportunity to realize all the things she didn’t have with her mother.
“Sarai is a blessing,” Towns said. “Smart, independent and she’s not even two yet. I’m glad that I already saw the bad side of parenting and now I get to be the good parent.”
Opening up as a parent has also enabled her to grow as a noncommissioned officer and supervisor.
“Now, as a NCO, I care for my airmen,” Towns said. “I will stand up for them and take the heat for them if need be. I just want to see them thrive and watch them go for their dreams.”
Towns said she hopes that by sharing her story, others who are going through abusive situations will be willing to open up and seek help like she did.
“You are not alone, you don't have to be afraid to reach out and talk to people, to get the support you need,” Towns said. “Don't be afraid to share your story, as your story may be the key to unlock somebody else's prison.”
Published April 8, 2017