WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - Improbably, the women laugh as they leave an elevator together without looking over their shoulders to see if someone is lurking to harm them.
They're residents of a housing complex for families escaping domestic abuse run by DASH- District Alliance For Safe Housing- at a secret location with high security that breeds a sense of safety for women who have seen so little of it.
"When we came here, we were completely a mess," said resident Patricia Archer.
"We had no home, no place to go. Of course, that was our priority, " she said.
"Before I came here, my life was a disaster," she told 9News Now of her life on the receiving end of violent domestic abuse.
"My kids were watching me through their innocent eyes so it was horrible. I didn't know if I should go to the left or should I go to the right," she said.
"My son said something to me. 'Ma, this is not good. You can not live like this,' and those words helped me to make the decision, because I had been trying to make the decision for a very long time," she said of the conversation with her then eight-year-old son.
She now has hope, and advice for others trapped in domestic abuse.
"Try to get that inner strength that is inside. Look around, especially at the kids, especially the sadness in their eyes.
Look at the sadness in the mirror in your eyes and say enough is enough. It's not going to get better unless I make a change now, and that's what I woud tell someone," she said.
Former truck driver for the DC government, "Nelecia" has a similar story that brought her to DASH.
"I was unconscious. He broke my nose. I had a concussion and then, I really didn't tell on him. I faked it as a car accident.
"I was in the hospital. I said no more. I'm not going back, and then I called a shelter hotline," she said of her decision to leave and seek help.
"I had no job. I had no money. I had nothing. I didn't know what I was going to do. I was dependent on this guy," she told 9News Now.
No more. On a March evening, she showed off her apartment at DASH to a visiting photographer. " I think I did a good job decorating it," she said.
That sense of place overwhelmed another DASH resident, Janet M. Copeland.
"When she gave me the key to open my door I fell to my knees and kissed the floor because I was so happy. I felt safe. It was like a new awakening. I was just so grateful. That's the word. I was just so grateful that it was a place that I could go with my baby and feel safe," she said.
Her life before the move was far different.
"He beat and raped me so bad, and my daughter was in the house. She didn't see it but I know that she heard. She heard Mommy hollering, Mommy saying 'Stop!' and he wouldn't.
So, the next day I planned to just get what I could get and get out," she said of the decision that changed her life.
"It's awesome! It's awesome! If you want it you can get it. It's right here. It's here and you can get it," Copeland said of her new life and her decision to put an end to her own life.