In new book, teacher shares story of journey to 'whole new life'

By STEPHANIE BERNABA
Posted 9/29/20

Bain Middle School technology teacher Donna Wayles's first-hand experience with domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband is the subject of her debut memoir, "e;I'll Pray for You,"e; being released by Kharis Publishing on Oct. 30.

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In new book, teacher shares story of journey to 'whole new life'

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Bain Middle School technology teacher Donna Wayles’s first-hand experience with domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband is the subject of her debut memoir, “I’ll Pray for You,” being released by Kharis Publishing on Oct. 30.

The book, Wayles said, was something of a “COVID project.” She took time during quarantine to put the finishing touches on a story she says many people in her life have encouraged her to tell.

The book chronicles her life, meeting her would-be Navy husband on the sandy beaches of Hawaii, and the temporarily idyllic romance that swept her off her feet. Not long after, the veneer of her relationship began to peel, exposing red flags she felt she should have seen all along.

Her husband, a man named “Dirk” (his name is changed in the book), became both extremely controlling and sexually demanding, causing Wayles to slowly come to question her choice of a partner. Having been raised a strict Christian by both her family and community, she felt obligated to obey and submit to her husband, but never felt quite right doing so.

“Two reasons I wrote the book were that I really think there are women who may find themselves in my position and don’t know what to do,” she said. “I was a state-level conference speaker, for different Christian schools, and even public school state technology conferences. And yet I couldn’t communicate with my husband without making him angry.”

She added: “And then I talked with some friends and they said, ‘You’re a lot different when he’s around and when he’s not. When he’s out to sea, you’re a different person.’”

Wayles said this is when she began to recognize the presence of a serious problem.

The abuse escalated after she gave birth to their daughter, who is now 16. He controlled where she went and with whom, to whom she spoke, what she ate, and what she looked at on the internet. He monitored her phone records as well.

Wayles’ harrowing story came to a disquieting climax after one particularly scary domestic violence episode that occurred in her home as her young daughter napped. She then began a frightening journey to separate from, and later divorce, her husband.

Along the long and winding road of her separation, at some points she and her daughter were broke, homeless and hungry. She explained that some of her neighbors had been less than kind.

Wayles explained that the pastor at the church she attended when her relationship was at its worst told her, “I had to take back my now ex-husband, or they would basically discipline me out of the church or excommunicate me. That’s a horrible thing to do to anyone.” She explained it was the belief of her church at the time that she should not divorce, and the couple should instead work it out.

After her experience with domestic violence, the police, restraining orders, and shelters for herself and her daughter, she knew there would be no going back.

Several years later, during a Digital Authorship class taught by Dr. Renee Hobbs at the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, Wayles finally felt she had permission to begin sharing her story.

“One of the things she challenged us to do,” Wayles said, “was to tell an authentic story. And my classmates were making videos and podcasts about their lessons, but I had messaged Dr. Hobbs asking ‘How authentic do you want this to be?’ And she said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ So we talked about what I would write, and that was the seed of what turned into this book. So it was great.”

Wayles explained her publishing experience was quite an atypical whirlwind. She sent her query in January and was answered four months later, in May, by very interested publishers.

Wayles said she is proud to be affiliated with Kharis Publishing, described on its website as an “independent, traditional book publisher with a social mission.” The publisher, she said, which distributes primarily Christian and inspirational titles, regularly donates a portion of its profits to literacy efforts for orphans in Ghana and Nigeria.

Since picking a publisher, Wayles has been working on edits and choosing a book cover.

“Their graphic design team has been amazing,” she said. “I have learned a lot about what goes into the cover of the book and the background of how much the cover of the book tells the story.”

Wayles had hoped for a fall filled with appearances and signings, but COVID-19 restrictions have postponed some of those events.

She will, however, host a signing on the book’s release day, Oct. 30, at the Knights of Columbus hall at 70 Pettaconsett Ave. in Cranston. The drop-in event is being held from 7-9 p.m., and reservations are being taken at eventbrite.com/e/ill-pray-for-you-drop-in-book-launch-tickets-118962244275. The event is free, but attendees can purchase a first-edition signed copy of “I’ll Pray for You” for $20.

Wayles did find love again, and relocated to Rhode Island with her new husband, Jason, who works at General Dynamics, and her daughter, in 2011. The family now lives in Hope Valley.

Wayles is in her first year working as a technology teacher at Bain after moving from the same position at Western Hills Middle School. Prior to that, she was the technology integration specialist for the East Greenwich Public Schools.

She said her family and colleagues are supportive of her journey and the writing of her book.

Wayles also expressed interest in following up “I’ll Pray for You” with a second book that tackles what happens after leaving a domestic abuse situation.

“I think we focus a lot on getting out, and that’s really important, but what do you do once you’re out?” she said. “How do you rebuild your life? So, it’s just this conscious, all of a sudden, ‘Wow. I have a whole new life now. What do I do with it?’”

When asked if she felt she was a domestic violence awareness advocate, she explained: “I wouldn’t consider myself an advocate as much as I would call myself a subject matter expert.”

She added: “In the domestic violence world, they talk about being a victim and then a survivor. And there’s a third category called a thriver. Not many people make it to thriving after domestic violence. And that’s really where I choose to live.”

“I’ll Pray for You” will be available for $16.99 at Barrington Books Retold in Garden City, Barnes & Noble, as well as Amazon and other booksellers. 

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