I haven’t forgiven this doesn’t mean I want them dead it just means I don’t forgive their violence. It also means I think sometimes, those days when crawling out of bed are so hard, I want them to hurt like I hurt. Some days, those days when I think I will breakdown and call the doctor begging for something stronger than Ibuprofen 800 for pain management I think Damn them to hell forever, I don’t want to live my life this way and my fury rises up and I weep. I cannot help the way I feel I am not a saint, my halo has not been granted.
For about eight years, I have been an activist in the criminal justice system. I speak in a program called Victim Impact inside of the Prison system of Texas. I speak to offenders in Federal, State and Juvenile lock-up and to the Parole groups ordered into the program. I do not speak out of hate or revenge; I don’t speak to hammer a captive audience with anger. I speak because I hope each time to touch one heart; just one would be enough for me. One heart that will leave the room with a different perspective on the relationship between themselves and their acts, their victims that includes their own families, their children and of course, the person they directly harmed.
I have spent eight years telling my story. There are some days when I walk into the rooms and look out at the faces I am decimated by their youth. I ask how many have children, they all raise their hands and I consider the lives of my three offenders, just children themselves twenty years ago at the time our lives intersected, each with at least one parent behind bars at the time they kidnapped and shot me three times. Their histories are the genesis of my activism, the framework of my thinking about how we each create the ever-expanding ripples through our judgment, acts, remorse and yes-even forgiveness.
Over the years, I have evolved, I thought. I believe each of us has the ability to reform our life, that with few exceptions each of us has the capacity to change our lives. If I didn’t believe this, I could not walk through the gates of prisons, stand before violent offenders, and say I believe they have the capability to make positive change. If I didn’t believe compassion and empathy existed, even in the most hardened of humans, I could not stand before them and say to them…
“You have the ability to change the life of your children. You have the ability to change your own life by tapping into your empathy.”
Now I have to ask myself is all I do and all I say simply a panacea for my ego or perhaps simply a pragmatic intellectual exercise that I haven’t truly absorbed into my heart and spirit. Perhaps, it is something else altogether. Perhaps what I say only applies to everyone else, offenders and victims together but not to me and not to my offenders. I have run into a brick wall, the wall of my intellect fighting my heart. My heart is winning today. My heart won last Wednesday and has won every day since Wednesday since I opened the letter from the Texas State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
“This is to inform you Your Offender has been granted Parole”
Charge: 2 Counts Attempted Capital Murder w/Deadly
Sentence: 35 years, 20 years
Sentence Date: April 13, 1993
Release Date: March 9, 2027
Parole Granted: October 4, 2012
When I opened that letter I was sitting at my desk, on the phone with my heart sister Red I think I went silent, the tears started, my heart stopped. I am not a Saint. I am barely human. My heart sister didn’t know, I slipped from my chair to my knees and had I not been on the phone with her my primal scream would have shook the walls. Instead all I could do is ask her to stop, stop talking please give me a minute, please let me read to her what I had just silently read to myself. The tears continued as I sobbed, I had already memorized the words though I didn’t have to read them. My life, dammit My Life.
My letters to the Parole Board obviously did not matter. My discussion with the head of the Parole board at Powledge Unit, none of that mattered. Clearly, I could have simply ignored all of that and the outcome would have been the same. My life, all the days I can’t move without wanting to fall to the floor that is worth twenty years. There is something far worse though, something that is causing me to want to crawl into my closet and stay there, re-examine myself closely.
I am not a saint, not that I have ever proposed I was. But I thought I was better than this. Better than demanding my pound of flesh. Better than demanding revenge. I did not realize I had not reconciled my pragmatic intellectual self, the part that believes remorse, rehabilitation and re-entry is not only possible but the hoped for outcome. I did not know this about myself, did not understand I had not brought my heart and mind together that I meant it, but not about MY OFFENDERS. I did not know this would cause me such fury.
I didn’t know I lacked compassion I think this devastates me more than I can even begin to measure.
I didn’t know I was false a sham. This also devastates me.