I looked out at thirty-three faces all staring back at me as I stood at the front of the room. Some young, some old, one woman the rest men. They did not want to be in this stuffy room sitting on those uncomfortable chairs. They didn’t have a choice, each one of them had been ordered into this room on this night for Victim Impact. Each one of them was a Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parolee; if they hadn’t signed in tonight, they could be revoked and returned to prison.
So there they slouched, White, Black, Brown; staring at me mostly I suspect hoping I would talk fast so they could fulfill this requirement and get the hell out of there.
“Tomorrow is my Anniversary.”
“Twenty-one years ago tomorrow, three young men decided for no good reason to try to take my life. Before I tell you the rest of the story we are going to play a game, it is called ‘What do you See’, so just shout it out when you look at me what do you see.”
This is their list; it took them a minute or so to get warmed up.
- White Lady
- Working Woman
- Successful Woman
- Crazy Woman
Interesting isn’t it? I didn’t give them my list until much later. I did tell them my story though. I told them the story of what happened. I told them the story of what it did to my family. I told them how I felt when I found out the ages of the children who did such terrible harm to me, how I felt knowing they were going to prison.
I also told them a little bit about my own childhood, that it hadn’t always been rainbows, puppy dogs or easy. I told them about being declared a juvenile delinquent, being turned over to the state and being a runaway and on the streets at a very young age.
It matters they are not able to blow off the story of survival, compassion or Impact because of what they see when they look at me today.
I am not unkind, but I don’t pull punches about my feelings toward my attackers. I don’t lie about my feelings regarding their release either. Today I found something new, the reason why the youngest did his entire twenty, his complete sentence; his prison record was so bad he could never make parole. The one who was out and had his parole revoked, he was on the street less than a month, 28 days to be precise he is back in now. The last one, his parole was approved in October but he has not been released yet, he has nowhere to go.
With each of these new pieces of information, I am torn. Torn between my wish they had made different choices. My wish they could find redemption. My true heartfelt wish they would or could be brought to the light and thus to a different manhood. Then there is the me that woke up this morning in pain again, the me that may face another surgery this year if the gym and physical therapy and acupuncture and everything else I am trying fails. There is the me that sometimes simply can’t get through the day without snapping for pain. There is the me that lies about seizures to keep people from worrying. There is the me who sometimes thinks I really will be alone someday because living with this me really isn’t a pleasant walk in the park.
When I look at this, these tears to my heart I have a very difficult time.
Whenever I speak at Victim Impact, I always allow for questions. I am always open and rarely am offended. Today I was offended, perhaps because things are close to the surface. Perhaps because tomorrow is my anniversary; but I think I was offended because it was simply an offensive exchange.
Sitting in the front row was a gentleman, perhaps in his forties who throughout the session had been fidgeting, rolling his eyes and clearly had something on his mind. Finally, he spoke up (this is paraphrased and not exact).
“Are you saying you never get angry, not even when you are in pain or when you have a seizure?”
“I did not say I am never angry, of course I get angry. I am human and have normal human reactions.”
“That is what I thought. So your interaction with the parole board to try to keep them inside is revenge!”
“No, it is not revenge. It is justice. For what they did to me, my family and their other victims they have never shown remorse. That lack of remorse or understanding means they will very likely do it again.”
“You threw them into prison, where it is insane, violent and terrible. You admitted they were children. You let them be turned into animals. Did you ever think about what they would become by keeping them there?”
“Yes, but what they did both before and after was not my choice it was their choice. They made these choices. At some point they have to take responsibility for those choices. They got time, I got life. Some day they will get out, they will choose what they do with the rest of their life. I don’t get to choose, my choices were taken away because of what they did. My life was shortened and changed because of what they did.”
At this point he started to argue but one of the host parole officers stepped in. In every crowd there is one like this. I don’t know why, there just is always one. The problem is there is a piece of me that will always wonder, always question my own heart. What if what he says isn’t at least in small part true, am I truly that terrible person who is only seeking revenge?
Tomorrow is my Anniversary. I am struggling with this.
If you saw any of the above when you looked at me, your first instinct would not be to hurt me. That is why I stand up. That is why I do Victim Impact. Tomorrow it will be Twenty-One years since three young men and three bullets changed my life forever.