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"Lay Down Your Life", The Cost of Freedom

I had the great honor to collaborate with Liysa Swart, photographer and activist, on a video project telling her story of domestic violence, incarceration and activism.

On October 9th, 2000 Liysa Swart shot and killed her husband Chris Northon after 4 years of abuse. She spent 12 years in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR. She was released in October 2012. She is speaking out against domestic violence, the limitations of Oregon laws and the marginalization of victims.

Please watch the video here

I have learned so much during the past four months working with Liysa and with Louise Bauschard, LCSW, about domestic violence, about the realities of women in abusive relationships and about the lack of compassion in our legal system.
I have also learned a lot about journalism and about my ethics as a journalist wanting to report to bring about social change. The level of collaboration I reached with Liysa and Louise empowered me and allowed for the creation of a piece that represents their voice accurately. I believe that our collaboration was an exchange of expertise. We all brought something to the table that fed our energy and motivation.
Collaboration, in my opinion, is the way to go when wanting to share with the audience true stories. I am not an expert about domestic violence. I have never experienced domestic violence. I have not lived through what Liysa has experienced. I can read all the books I want about it or watch a million films and speak to billions of women who have experienced it, I still would not have experienced domestic violence and therefore I would not feel that I can take the position of an expert in the topic.
Of course, there are ways that a journalist can report on issues that She has not experienced, and still produce a fair, accurate and compassionate piece. However, through collaboration, I believe that something else happens. A trust is built, and a partnership is born. I never considered Liysa "my subject" or "my source". Liysa was my associate, an integral part of the production process. She brought her life expertise, I brought my video production skills. Together we created "Lay Down Your Life", The Cost of Freedom.



Mukut's picture

Amazing work !


Many times i have wondered how to write a fair and accurate account of an incident i have personally not experienced yet. But as you mention, through collaboration, i think that process becomes much smoother.

Domestic violence is a nasty reality even in my side of the world. I know many households including my own, wherein i have witnessed it. It shatters you and destroys you from within. There is a part in me that i feel would never be healed because of what i have seen. I have felt comfortable in never speaking about it either. But i feel only by letting it out, can the healing happen. I hope one day i feel i am completely healed, till then i shall continue to fight and speak out.

Thank you for sharing this.


Mukut Ray

Thank you Mukut for watching my video and reading my post.
Thank you for sharing your own experience and for reflecting on the power of collaboration.
I hope you also fell healed one day. It has been amazing to witness Liysa's healing as she told her story and heard and watched herself on tap. Story telling can be a very powerful tool in the healing process.
Thanks again for all you bring to the conversation!

Delphine Criscenzo

Susan K.A.'s picture

Moving story

Dear Delphine,

Well done helping Liysa share her story--it's a powerful and moving one, for sure. Amazing and baffling how she could have been incarcerated for defending herself/her children. So important to highlight the injustice of it, so a million thanks for doing so, and galvanizing us to help change the system so this doesn't happen to other innocent people.

This has been an interesting spring for me, as I have been a support to a mom friend of mine (mother of my son's friend) who recently filed for divorce and had a restraining order enacted against her husband after years of abuse (mostly emotional abuse, though he often threatened her with physical abuse, including attempted strangulation). She has four children with him, and it is amazing to me how biased our legal system is in favor of the abuser. That is, the children's emotional needs and desires are not taken into account. They are legally forced to meet with their father (who they have absolutely NO interest in seeing, ever again) every week, with a court-appointed chaperon (the youngest is nine). It is incredibly painful to witness.

I found Liysa's description of needing to go "numb" during her incarceration so sad. I can certainly see how this would have felt necessary. And now she is waking up to all those vast reservoirs of grief that have been submerged all these years--the loss of witnessing her children's childhood, etc. My friend is experiencing a similar phenomenon as she wakes up to the reality of what she and her children have lived with all these years--she is beginning to mourn what might have been, and grieving the loss of their innocence and joy.

Thank you for bringing Liysa's story to us. The way you started her story, by showing how much she had going for her initially as a photographer living out her dream-life/career, made the story all the more poignant for me. Her story shatters any stereotypes about who an abused woman is. Abuse can happen to anyone and its origins can happen so subtley, so gradually. So fascinating that when Liysa's husband strangled her, the experience almost served to bind them together more as a couple as she sought to "solve their problem."

Lots to think about here and a call to action. Thank you, Delphine.

With love,


"I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

Thank you Susan foe watching and sharing the story of your friend.
It was so difficult to capture the complexity of Liysa's story in such a short amount of time, so I highly appreciate the feedback.
Her story has had so much impact on me and I do a strong need to act.
I am talking with Liysa about how we can use my story telling skills and her expertise, to bring about change in OR.
Thanks again.

Delphine Criscenzo

Hideko N.'s picture

It was painful to watch

Delphine, first let me congratulate you for bringing yourself in collaboration with Liysa to make this video and tell the story to inspire others. This has advanced yourself as a journalist further to learn more of the issues dealing with it and offering solutions in a way.

As a person who had gone through domestic violence and threat for life, I would like to share with you that there would be no one to understand you when you are in the situations of seriously being abused. Unless you are able to deal with it within yourself to deliver it with confidence and accuracy, no one would pay attention to your tears—as if you are mad. It is inexplicably painful...for a long time because the person you love is debasing you and discouraging you to speak out. There was enormous pressure to turn away from the truth. If you are the only one to be able to stand up for yourself, you need to gain power to believe in yourself. My daughter and I were locked up, and there were numerous individuals around the area who wanted to take advantages of us (thinking that we have money). Only the spiritual power I earned was from preachers who came to see us once a week. It must have been horribly painful beyond imagination to be locked up in jail for 12 years!.

I am happy to see Liysa bringing her victorious smile on her face. Perhaps you may ask her where she earned her power to overcome the pain.
My warmest regards to Liysa. Thank you for sharing the wonderful, inspiring story.

Hideko N.

SWACIN Support Women & Children in Nigeria
tel: +81 88-696-5417 / 090-1173-9378
fax:+81 88-696-5418
Web site:

Nakinti's picture


Hmmm....I am short of words right now!
I will need to reflect on this issue and come back to it some other time.
For now, thank you Delly for sharing....OMG!

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon

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