On My Knees

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.

Comments

  1. I often feel like a false sham with some of the activist work I’ve done in the past. I have not lived your story but I have dealt with some serious harm, and I can say you’re not a false sham. I think these experiences can make us more empathetic towards others’ pain. You’re intuitive and realize that there can be contradictions with you feelings (more in-tune with you subconscious) and your intellect which also connects to your heart; you want to help others improve themselves. This does not mean there isn’t room for your own improvement.

    Youre a brave woman and I commend you for sharing this!

    • Thank you Paz, I continue to struggle with my conflicting reactions and I am certain if the next letter comes with another parole notification I will be equally conflicted. Perhaps though better prepared.

  2. Val: I promised you that I would read bits and pieces of your story so that I could gain the entire picture of your journey when my heart could take it (it almost couldn’t take it during this one). Wow. I would still be on the floor in shock if I were in your shoes. Somehow, this experience has got to be part of the picture of the journey you’re on and how you press through this pain and where you find comfort will some day comfort others who walk in similar shoes. I too believe in redemption, forgiveness, and grace, but sometimes it takes a while to walk it out in reality. All the best.

    • I balance, but there are days; days like that one where I feel as if I am standing enpointe on a log in rapids. There will be others, I will stand in front of another group and I will see another father and he will touch me. I will believe again.

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    Valentine, this is overwhelming, overwhelming. I cannot imagine having gone through what you did, and then got that letter. I didn’t know the system let you know when your offender was out. In its most basic form, it’s supposed to be that they’ve done their time & that ‘should be’ justice served. Yet within YOU justice is NOT served, & seems will always be raw, this wound.

    I think you are bravely honest to concede you thought you were better than – but how could you possibly be better than ‘that’, I wonder, when in YOU the justice is not served. Time doesn’t equal justice served. And then we question what WOULD be justice served? I can so, so understand you wishing them like pain.

    I didn’t know you’ve been activist in this area for 8 years & I think it is enormous that you go within the system, and that you feel for these people, that they all have kids, and your offenders were ‘kids’. God, I really have nothing real to offer you, but to let you know I really, really feel all you’ve written here, & I think you’re taking the better road, & reflection & honesty, & permission to cry and scream are all essential along that path. You have every right to feel what you do, & it is so easily understandable. Sincere best, Valentine… N’n.

    • Our system is very pro-active Noleen. I am grateful for this because we are notified, I always know of changes in status. I suppose this is both good and bad. You are right, at the most basic level it should be they serve all the time they are sentenced to and he will continue to be monitored even when released he will be on parole for many years, not entirely free.

      No, time and justice are not equal. Never have been, never will be. But, for victims it is all we have. It is a double edged sword though, especially for people like me who see the system both as a victim but also from the inside.

      So my halo was knocked sideways by this. Sorting out my feelings is always difficult.

  4. You know Val you are Human with human emotions and human hurts and I can so relate to this post.. We think we have surpassed that point and come to terms with the pain and injustice we as humans have inflicted upon one another… Its so so hard… to forgive is an easy expression to say.. but to actually really forgive is the hardest to do…. Even though we are told forgiveness is the way…
    Your commitment of helping others heal and for your own understanding by communicating to others it is not only helping others but it is also healing you…
    We each Heal in different ways and your agony is shared by your readers… Letting go of hurt, wounds, anger and injustice are the lessons we are faced with overcoming…

    To win a race we first have to train those muscles to become stronger and flexible ,… We start small and work our way up before we tackle a Marathon,…
    You have come so far in your releasing your old wounds Val… no one expects you to be able to let go of hurt such as you have endured with a few words …

    You are upon your path and thats the important part…. What comes next will show a great amount of strength ,,,, This is the time of Transformation…. You can transform any negative into a positive… just know that NO ONE and I mean NO ONE can hurt YOU,. the Real YOU the Internal ever lasting eternal Val who has shown such great Spirit in her fight for Life and Living….

    Believe in YOU and your Heart…..
    Love Sue xxxx

    • I know Sue, I know or at least my head knows most of the time. Can’t tell my heart though. I am getting there, some of the time; other times well all I can say is I want to crawl in the closet and stay there.

      Transformation is hard you know? I wouldn’t mind so much but it is hard.

      As always, you touch me and I am grateful.

  5. You are not false, you are not lacking in compassion, you are not a sham. You are a warm, compassionate human being going above and beyond, out of your own pain, to try to help other people. That is not invalidated or even diminished by your reaction to this parole.

    To me, jail serves 2 very important purposes. It shows people that their actions have consequences. Hopefully this acts as a deterrent to others. The other function is more basic; to protect society from those who would hurt others. These 3 proved they could and would hurt. I suspect society as a whole is worse off with them on the streets.

    • The first and youngest of them was released earlier this year after serving his entire 20 year sentence. I was not nearly so undone by this event.

      This parole though, I am still reeling. I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that this person who picked up a gun and changed my life forever will walk out. I get it on some intellectual level, but my emotions are still unraveling. My fury is what mostly undid me, I did not expect it.

      Thanks Peg, for your words and your boost up.

      Val

  6. The Storriteller Post says:

    You ARE the Queen. Renaissance Woman. But I see your quandary. It’s a tough one. Hang in there, sister.

  7. A little more strength. Another mile. Another day. You are a strong lady–a pillar. You are amazing. You are powerful.

  8. AirportsMadeSimple says:

    Hi Val. I don’t know what to say. Peace to you.

  9. A very powerful, personal post … thus I think I will keep this short …. Strength to you, so be strong!

  10. I have a friend who was shot in Dallas in 1997 in what was either an attempted car-jacking or robbery. He took 6 bullets and still lived! Police have never caught the shooter, but the incident had a severe impact on my friend’s mental state. It almost rendered him insane, but I kept providing emotional support to him. I even joked that the shooter should have aimed for his head because the bullets would have just bounced right off.

    As for the forgiveness issue, that’s consensual. Whoever you forgive should ask for that concession, if the circumstances allow it. And, you damn sure can’t just “get over” something like that! You shouldn’t let it rule your life, but don’t let anyone – least of all the culprits – forget what happened. I know this will sound cheesy, Val, but stay strong! They didn’t kill you then and they damn sure can’t kill you now!

    • I know Alejandro and they don’t rule my life most days. I have turned most of my anger to positive use and most days I am fine emotionally and mentally. It was a hard road and there are set-backs with ever surgery or every new physical challenge. But most days I am fine.

      But this day, no I am not.

  11. ~~~Val,
    do not feel guilty.
    Remember, you were the person they shot. You were the person that is changed forever.
    you were the victim….they are the abusers.
    This is not about hate…this is about justice.
    Was their justice served? I am afraid for the rest of us when they get out. People usually do not change…

    Love. Xxxxxx

    • I know Kim. I do know and I can’t answer the question. I don’t know if they have changed, but you know everything I do in Victim Impact, all that I stand up for and all that I stand on says I believe people can change, can make positive choices and positive impacts no matter who they are. I believe that, I do. Just not today just not right now.

      The pebble we throw in the placid lake has ripples and they grow ever outward. This was a really big rock and it hurt.

  12. Oh Val, you’re wrong.

    Wanna know what I remember most clearly about the story of the shooting and the followup?

    That the three guys showed no remorse. None. Nada. They didn’t care.

    And so you work with other offenders, to try and touch them, to try to make a difference. To try to help them understand that when you do something that hurts someone, say “I’m sorry.” And mean it.

    You know that bravery is defined not by lack of fear but by overcoming it.

    Well, so is compassion. And you have it in spades. You can’t take away the righteous anger you feel at three guys who intentionally hurt you. You’re human. You were hurt intentionally. But you try to help other perpetrators and victims by talking about your pain, your life, and the repercussions of terrible crimes for both sides.

    All I can do is wish I were more like you.

    A big hug from me, too, Val.

    • Oh Elyse thank you, hugs are most welcome right now as I find myself lashing out in my anger. Losing control of my usual self-control. Today I am going to apologize to someone who I lost my temper with, though they deserved some of it I still should not have done it. I am so close to the surface though. This has brought so much to the surface.

      Ah well, I won’t stuff it down. But it did cause me to collide with myself. I didn’t like it.

      • Stuffing it down never helps. And apologies always make me feel better — and that’s what I want you to feel. Better.

        Love, Elyse

  13. I have read your story and it stopped me in my tracks.
    I don’t think you should beat yourself up for your feelings. If you squashed them down you would be the sham. You are being honest and facing your feelings, and as you face them don’t resist them – accept them – and then you can move on.
    If you resist them you’ll get stuck, and all the time instead of judging yourself, forgive yourself. Until you forgive yourself you can’t forgive anyone else.
    And while you’re forgiving yourself, give yourself the love and appreciation you deserve.
    You are a beautiful human being with a great heart. With warm wishes, valerie

  14. You do not lack compassion. You are not a sham. You are a human being and anyone else in your position would feel the same anger and resentment. What most people wouldn’t have done was try to make a change by speaking to those who you could have simply unleashed your anger on. I agree with what your other readers have said, and I agree that you can have these conflicting feelings all at once. Let yourself feel angry, let yourself cry. Don’t feel like you’re wrong for doing that. When you’re ready, use the amazing strength you have always and still have to move forward.
    – Janice xoxo

  15. daily struggle. torment. familiar words.

  16. I think it took courage for you to even go into the prisons at all and I admire you for that. Your reaction to this letter seems rather normal – not a sham.

    • The first time, I was scared to death. Maybe the the first 10 times really. Then it became a mission. Yet a still, I didn’t expect this reaction I thought I was ready.

  17. News like that would send anyone to their knees and bring back buckets of emotion, most of them probably anger and disbelief. You are by no means a sham. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to read those words.

    • I am still reading them. I have them memorized across my heart. Lashing me. I am afraid I will read them again next month when the last of the three stands before the parole board for his hearing. This simply drives my hurt deeper and my fury to a cyclone strength.

  18. I wish I had been there in person. You did not want to hear it that night, and you may not want to hear it now. It is perfectly reasonable. In the wake of something which defies reason, it is no comfort the fury, hurt, (insert negative emotion) is reasonable.

    You are absolutely not a sham. Just like each heart you touch in panels has to have the moment when the wick lights, your heart needed the light. In all your days, I have never know you to burn merely warm. While it burns, pile on all the unresolved emotions. I shall bring pink marshmallows to toast.

    I love you.
    Red.
    xxx

  19. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    I don’t believe for a second that you lack compassion, my friend. In these moments, past and present collide to leave one feeling as if the old self lives once more. It’s both natural and OK to feel what you’re feeling, knowing that these echoes will persist for a time, becoming duller and less frequent with time.

    You are facing a test which I have total faith you will best. Please be patient with yourself and know you are well and deeply loved throughout and beyond.

  20. I am sorry to hear that your offenders are being granted parole. Know that your pain and anger are justified and that the healing process is not linear.

    Please take a look at the following link. This is my aunt and the story about what happened to my cousin. I hope that you find some comfort in the work my aunt has done and know that there are others out there who understand.

    http://www.fightcrime.org/survivor-spotlight/sorenson

    • Thank you for the link. I work within one of the programs your Aunt likely works in also, Victim Impact. I have volunteered in that program for going on 8 years. I work with other victims, I know I am not alone. Sometimes it doesn’t help. Sometimes it feels as if we are the only one and we are in a cone of silence struggling to be heard. This is that day. This is that day when I see me in the mirror and scream that is not me.

      Your aunt is done a wonderful thing and is one of the heroes of our system. We need so many like her.

      • I cannot imaging what you are going through. I am glad that you write about your experiences. Thank you for the kind words about my aunt.

  21. I’m sorry and I also understand the disconnect between the two sides inside of you. I don’t have any answers but I have empathy, and also believe you can hold two conflicting views at the same time and not be wrong on either.

    • Thank you I just wish I had known before now. I wish I would have know I would be so furious. I wish I could reconcile my heart and my mind a little better. I feel like such a sham right now.

      • I felt like a sham too when it happened to me for something much, much, smaller in reality that what you dealt with. It is not something that you should feel bad about and suspect it is a pretty common reaction. You are okay – really.

Trackbacks

  1. […] you read the above right, all of my personal offenders are now free. When I wrote On My Knees in October, only one had received his parole approval. Since that writing, something else […]

  2. […] My sister challenged me this week to stop giving a [expletive] what other people thought. You know I laughed, right? You know what else? She is right. […]

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