My Anniversary Shots Fired

LVal_2010I 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
  • Educated
  • Well-Dressed
  • Rich
  • Articulate
  • Mean
  • 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.

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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.

My list:

  • Daughter
  • Grandmother
  • Mother
  • Wife
  • Sister
  • Aunt
  • Cousin
  • Friend

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 bj-286x300bullets changed my life forever.

Comments

  1. Hi Valentine,

    What a heart-wrenching and heartfelt post. I often read about violent criminals who are released early only to re-offend. It’s as if the impact on victims is discounted in favor of rehabilitation of the perpetrators. I can understand the reasoning behind dangling the carrot of early release, but not when the crime involves violence, so it was encouraging to read that your remorseless attackers have not gotten off easy.

    The argument that prison exacerbates the negative tendencies of a youthful offender has some validity, but what would the questioner propose. No jail time? A drastically reduced sentence? Neither of those alternatives are sensible. After all, we’re not talking about a drug offense, larceny, or some other property crime. If prison has any purpose at all, it is to protect us from those who have demonstrated that they have a violent disregard for others.

    Sleep well. You didn’t cause your attack, so you’re not responsible for the rehabilitation or the fate of your attackers.

    • Ray, thank you. If you read the rest of the Victim Impact series you will see I struggle with these questions often. I do believe in rehabilitation, I think we can put systems in place and haven’t done so. I volunteer in the Impact program because I believe we can make a difference especially with youthful offenders. But there has to be acceptance of consequence. The victim, we accept the consequence all the time and we are often forgotten. That is what is so difficult.

      Your comments are very much appreciated.

  2. Really hard questions to reflect on. He spoke out of anger and selfishness. As probably was how he committed the crime he did. He is a victim in his mind and is playing the blame game. You are brave when you open yourself to that. But I am sure it packs a punch to others in the room, who can see from the other side for the first time!

    • I think hard for all of us at times. I never leave my attackers at the door when I speak. I also never leave my audience’s victims out of the equation, their families are their victims also. All to often there is a belief in the fallacy of a victimless crime, there is no such thing.

      He was speaking from a position of anger and blame. I understand that.

  3. Such a powerful, important post. I came right here to read your story as soon as I saw your comment on my blog. It is so brave and valuable, what you are doing, even if it changes the views of just one single criminal. Yes, they may have been children, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences for the crime. As you say, they got time, you got life.

    You are in no way to blame for your reactions. The man questioning you had a) probably never experienced the pain you continue to endure and b) he probably hadn’t let go of his initial list of what he saw when he looked at you. (Which enabled him to judge you.)

    The many systems in the shooters’ lives may have failed them; this country may have failed them. But none of that is on you.

    I hope this makes sense.

    • I always say, “Just One”. Please, “Just One”. That will be enough and that makes it worth it. The ripple of just one, that means their families are touched, their communities are touched so it is more than just one. The children (now men) who hurt me were failed miserably by so many, I have always thought about that. It doesn’t change actions have consequences, but our actions as a society have consequences also, they are the consequence of our inaction, our lack of care for the children who are growing up without parents, without care, without schools.

      I fight the battle within quite often. The battle of fear and anger against my natural instinct, empathy, compassion and a demand for social justice. It is a difficult battle. The pragmatic me knows, I did not earn this stripe. The authentic, emotional me well I am by nature introspective and cannot help but examine my motives.

      You make perfect sense Lisa, thank you.

  4. I imagine that what he said WAS “at least in small part true.” But that is NOT the same as “only seeking revenge.” If a little bitterness underscores your very real desire to help other people avoid what you have to live, then cut yourself a little bit of slack for being human, hmmm?

    • One of my worst attributes is my inability to cut myself slack. I have known this about myself for years. I beat the living hell out of myself, frequently and with apparent glee. I have never been certain where this quirk comes from, I have had it all my life.

      I don’t think I am bitter though, angry sometimes; yes I am certainly that but not bitter. Revenge though, that is such a terrible thing and one I hope isn’t part of my make-up. As I have said in a couple of responses, introspection doesn’t hurt. I need to consider if in some small part justice and revenge haven’t been one and the same. I hope not, but perhaps.

  5. You are a brave soul Val, you may not know or admit it but you are one tough spirit, i just read the entire victim impact series to understand this post..Oh man it seems to me there is a separate dept. set up just for you by people who control “department of hurdles in life” sitting up in the sky..am speechless,it takes every ounce of courage one can muster and then more to walk those roads..

    • I never think of myself of brave, funny isn’t it. I just think, this is my path and I will walk it in the best way I am able. I hope I can do some good while I am here. Every single time I stand up in Victim Impact I ask only that I touch one heart, change one mind. That is all, just one if I do that is enough. That one heart will touch more, it will ripple and perhaps through that ripple more lives will be changed in a positive way.

      My sister once said, of all my siblings only I could have survived. Perhaps that is true, it made me angry at the time. Now I understand.

      Thanks Soma.

  6. As always, my friend, I waited until I could sit and think about your words, your story.

    First, I am not sure if there is an appropriate gift for such an anniversary. If there is, I would wager that it is self forgiveness. And while I am in no position to do so, I give it to you. Forgive yourself for the fact that you were where you were, that you reacted the way you reacted, that you survived, that you have ever been angry, hurt, embittered, in pain. Forgive yourself for these and the many other things I have not mentioned. You have earned that forgiveness. You have done your penance a million times over.

    Second, I am looking at that man, the one in the crowd. I would bet big bucks that he is there because he was involved in something similar to the crime you were caught up in. He was there where he shouldn’t be. He did something for which he has a smidge of remorse but even more defensiveness. He wants to believe that whomever HE hurt deserved it, just like he wants to believe that because you get angry at what happened, that you deserved it.

    Fuck him and everyone like him.

    Happy rebirth, my dear friend. You are 21 years older than some folks wanted you to be. Fuck them too. You go girl.

  7. add two words to your list, survivor, inspiration

  8. If the logic he is promoting is that they did the crime but should have been forgiven due to their age and not do any time, then what impression would that have given a few delinquents with no remorse? Would they have been grateful to God for sparing them? Would they have appreciated your kind gesture and changed their ways as a result? If there was remorse… maybe. But without it, they would have felt they pulled the wool over God’s eyes and would have had a dangerous sense of power and entitlement that would have encouraged them to do it once again. They would have continued to see people like you as weak and would have propagated that thinking to others in their circles, in their lives. They would have committed similar atrocities with exponentially increasing severity and ruined countless other lives again, and again, and again. At least for twenty years, they have not had the opportunity.

    • The problem with this thinking, at the end of the day is this person felt no remorse for his own crimes I don’t think. He felt no empathy for his own victims. He didn’t understand, despite my feelings of anger, I still felt great empathy for the loss of their childhood and their loss of so much of their life. He could not see beyond his own anger and his own sense it was someone else who had placed him in the position he was in.

      • And so it goes, Val. Just like your history, some things cannot be changed. Not everyone is capable of evolution, emotional or otherwise. Cockroaches will forever remain in this world, I think. And beautiful birds of paradise, too, if we take care to preserve them. Far fewer are interested in purposely annihilating the existence of beautiful things like these birds but there is actually a spray to kill cockroaches. We lovely creatures need to take care of each other and put other destructive creatures in their place when they become a threat to the fine balance of life.

  9. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing people say how brave and strong you are, Val, but it’s definitely true. One other thing is also true (as painful as it is): you’ll never just get over that mess. It’s carved an indelible and irreversible mark into your heart. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that! But, for what it’s worth, I truly admire your tenacity. I honestly don’t see how you’ve survived all of what you’ve endured, but I’m certainly glad you have!

    • It is funny you know, I am not really brave. I think we all simply just step up to the table placed before us and decide what we will do, whether we will sit down and fill our plate or whether we will hide beneath it. I simply don’t want to live my life without truly living my life, without at least some wonderful things. That means now and again some things will not be so wonderful I suppose. I don’t think any of us get a free ride, we simply cannot go through life without doing something, giving something back. Anything at all. Whatever we have within us to give.

      Thanks Alejandro.

  10. I do admire you and I feel that we live in a society that doesn’t think about the consequences of their actions and until that changes, there will always be victims and I am heartfelt sorry that you are one of them

    • Thanks Dallas, I don’t think of my self as a Victim you know. A survivor yes, but never a victim. You are right, every choice we make has consequences. How we interact with those around us, with society determines the quality of our life. I hope at the end of the day the quality of my life is grand, more than this though I hope the lives of those I touch might be burnished just a little bit.

  11. Val I have said it before and I say it again, you are one courageous lady. We each of us have to take responsibility for our actions, these 3 young men knew right from wrong action and they chose what they did.. Now they are paying the consequence.
    What this person in your exchange of words does not see is that you are paying each day for those choices they made.. You didnt have a choice…. You were a Victim…

    We can all of us become Victims of our thoughts too.. as we try to juggle them so that it may please others.. But what I so admire about you is that you are True to YOU.. and that my friend is what’s needed..If only more could be the same… ( Your political debates would go through the roof LOL as many who side with this or that party do so because they think they should adhere to popular opinions 😉 )

    And I would ask the best of us in our righteous houses, had we been put through what you have been through would we be any different…
    Until you have walked in another’s shoes, then No one can judge how we would react..

    I have many opinions upon why our live paths go through the mire but at the end of the day each life path is a matter of choices made …

    Love and Blessings dear Val… and I send you Love, Healing, Peace, and my heartfelt thoughts …
    ~Hugs Sue xox

    • It is funny Sue, last night I was asked by a person what I thought about the gun debate. I think they were all surprised by my response. Perhaps I will save that one for another day.

      I have no choice anymore, I have to be my authentic self as much as it is possible to do so. Introspection continues, I continue to question my reactions and responses. I think it is healthy, but maybe not so close to today. Today was difficult. You would think time, distance would make it easier, it doesn’t though. Some years this days breezes by, this year this year has been hard.

      Hugs, blessings and light back Sue. You are always so welcome.

      • This year I think Val has been hard because of the Earth’s own energy changes,, You would be surprised and how trauma’s are surfacing and re-surfacing and things which we thought we had let go of are coming up to hit us between the eyes my friend…. So that is why this year I feel emotions are amplified even greater than before.. So do not think it is just you…

        Be gentle with yourself……..and thank you Val, Like wise you are always so welcome over at Dreamwalker’s 🙂

  12. You already know that I would never forgive them, but for you, your Victim Impact study is very important, I just don’t like that guy attacking you in that way, I mean what does he know? Justice has to be served but when such a heinous crime has been committed and there is no remorse shown then I think that prisoners fitting that description should never get out, I mean if a lesson is not learnt by incarceration then what is the point? You are a very brave lady Val and I wish you very well my sweet friend 🙂 xxxx

  13. Val, I love (yes, love) this post for the raw authenticity of it, and the courage that you demonstrate in trying to resolve the sometimes persistent inner conflict regarding the small possibility of truth in this statement:
    “What if what he says isn’t at least in small part true, am I truly that terrible person who is only seeking revenge?”

    Fact is, you are absolutely NOT that terrible person. Though you put on a brave face and try to live victoriously by: a) telling the story – the truth, unadulterated – whether it sits well with others or not, and; b) making peace/ sense of what has happened to you so that you can live, move forward, and not perpetually harbor animosity, keep in mind that you were the victim and not the aggressor. You played no part in the danger that your aggressors exacted upon you. You are a testimony, a living witness indeed, however, each person is responsible for their own redemption, as are their own choices.

    I teach my children every day that their lives (our lives) are largely a result of the personal choices we make. No one should have to sort out the baggage of our lives and determine why we do the wrong things we do. It is up to us to make better choices, or suffer the consequences of those choices.

    The ending of your post touches on something much broader, and that is empathy. I began an organization with my children (we are its charter members) called “Make Some Noise!” Its mission is simple – “to engender empathy among children and families through tangible social action” – because at the end of the day empathy is hugely lacking. Much of society has become desensitized to violence and reduces life to the images that flash across the news of a CNN story. We need to begin personalizing the lives and faces again, and relate somehow to the individual as “mother, grandmother, daughter” et al.

    I am sending Love, Light, and Life Energy your way. Glad I read my blogs today! Truth for my soul – keep on telling it. 🙂

    Be Well
    SomerEmpress

    • Thank you, for reading and for commenting. It is these I need to hear. When I speak I never speak just for me or for my family. But also for my offenders for the terrible toll their acts took on their lives and the lives of their families. The ripple across the pond on all of us. It is why I stand up, it is why I speak out. Compassion and empathy, you are right it is what is missing.

  14. Val you are so brave and honest. But don’t take that man’s stuff on board. he was dumping his anger on you.. You don;t have to take it. Let him go.. He;s stuck with that burden of rage. You can move on…
    And actually, if you did feel like revenge – well that’s how it is for now.. a perfectly valid feeling, and when you’ve felt it, you can move on. But he can’t . he’s stuck.
    So be kind to yourself, you deserve whatever you can give yourself….

    • I know Valerie, I know. As I said to Red earlier, introspection isn’t a terrible thing though. I don’t want to think I have crossed over from one thing to another, I don’t want to think despite it all my true motivation is revenge. This would truly make me false to my principles. I don’t think I am, but introspection doesn’t hurt. Maybe just not today.

  15. First and foremost here’s an enormous hug from down under.

    OMG, you have much more self control than the Loon . I would have let that man have it. Revenge? How dare he judge you. I am sick and tired of people making excuses for the bad behavior of others. “Revenge” ….how about “justice” ???? That just makes my blood boil. There is absolutely no closure for you, whether they remain behind bars or not, you are forever connected to them.

    If these “kids” had any remorse whatsoever they would do everything in their power to grow up to become better MEN and decent human beings. Prison isn’t the cause of the problem, their choices were. Prison is there for a reason, to hold people who aren’t willing to behave in society.

    My heart goes out to you Valentine.

    You are not alone in your feelings….. . An axe murderer who killed a mother and her 3 children is up for parole this year after serving only 20 years.
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/keep-the-monster-in-prison/story-e6frg6n6-1226567449470

    • That is a horrifying story.

      The parole officer who stepped in did a very good job of trying to establish the same framework. Choices, theirs and mine. When I do the panels, I work with the same people the same hosts so I get to know them and they me. They are very protective of me, they don’t want to lose their speakers, but also I guess they like me.

  16. I love you. I hate this post. I love you.

    He is wrong.

    • I guess the question is why do you hate it? Just what happened, just the day. Just my world and my heart today.

      • I hate the turmoil of so many questions pointed at yourself. Your heart is in the right place. You were not and are not the one at fault. The concept of shoot the messenger always irks me. In this case, Mr. I have no investment managed to get you to ask yourself a dead end what if. No, nothing whatsoever you did was contributory and moreover, the idea justice is revenge is ludicrous. Paying for misbehavior is not the object vengeance.
        Ugh.

        • Ah, you don’t hate the post. You hate the exchange. I don’t mind the exchange. It bothered me, but I don’t mind questioning my motives now and again. It isn’t terrible to look into yourself and ask hard questions. Now, right this minute isn’t probably the right time for this introspection, but introspection itself is never a terrible thing.

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