Sandpaper on Silk

This has been a rough year, I mentioned that in a previous post and I mentioned some of the reasons why. This year I celebrated (I use this word tongue in cheek) my twenty year anniversary, February 7, 1992 was the day myrubyslippers life changed though at the time I wouldn’t know this single event would be life changing. All year I have been exploring my inner world and the events of my life that created that inner world. Some days I feel caught, as if I am Dorothy but the tornado didn’t drop my house in Oz and I do not have Ruby Slippers.

Nearly a year ago I told the story of February 7th, for those who have never read it feel free to jump over to Crime, Punishment and Victims. As part of that story, I provided this simple table, which I have changed to provide release dates:

Charge Sentence Date Release Date First Eligible Release Parole Date Birth Date Actual Release Date
Att Cap Murder w/ Deadly 8/12/92 3/13/12 3/31/97 12/14/75 3/12
2 counts Att Cap Murder w/Deadly 4/13/93 3/9/27 7/12/00 6/18/76 10/12
2 counts Att Cap Murder w/Deadly Agg Robbery w/Deadly 3/8/93 3/5/27 3/12/00 3/5/76 11/12

Yes, 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 happened, in November the final blow to my already shattered spirit, shortly before Thanksgiving the last of the three walked free with his parole. I simply could not write then, I couldn’t put fingers to keyboard, it has taken me weeks till now in truth to say they are all free.

Yesterday morning I was in my doctor’s office, we were discussing the weakness in my arm. Why during the course of the day my right arm will suddenly become weak, I suddenly can’t type, why the escalation in pain over the past several months. I adore my Neurologist, for several reasons but mostly because he is patient with me, patient with my complaints. We both know what is wrong, I suspect we both know I cannot continue to ignore the obvious, but he has not pushed me to surgery earlier than I was ready to accept the inevitable, I am not going to miraculously leap up healed. He is also not a pill pusher, which I appreciate even more than anyone could possibly imagine. We now have a plan, I don’t love the plan; I have been avoiding major surgery for a few years, it is likely I will not be able to avoid any longer.

When the first of the three walked out the prison gates, he had served his sentence. It was a mixed set of emotions I felt, but he had served his entire sentence he was done and free. When I received the first notice of parole in October, I was as the title of my post says on my knees. I couldn’t breathe for days; my fury was so hot I lashed out at everyone around me. Then November came, the third letter came. Honestly, I thought this one would be a notification of denial, surely they wouldn’t grant another parole, would they?

Parole

Really? Parole?

  • I can’t sleep through an entire night, because of pain.
  • I can’t sit for more than two hours without tears of pain.
  • I can’t walk for more than fifteen minutes without my right leg going entirely numb.
  • There are times during the day, I can’t feel my right arm, my hand goes numb, my entire right side goes numb. There are times I am in so much pain I want to scream.

Parole?

What have they done to deserve parole?

I have to have more surgery. I have to risk my life under anesthesia for the possibility of life with less pain.

They get parole seventeen years early.

Parole? I am trying to find my compassion button.

compassionbutton

I am trying to find the place in me that agrees this is fair and just. I am trying hard to say this is not about me but simply part of the system. Victims are truly not part of the equation, though we are notified and we are invited to say our piece to courts and parole boards, it isn’t truly about us. We are not part of the criminal justice system; it is not about us in any real sense. I know this, intellectually I know this; my heart doesn’t follow my mind.

When an offender is arrested and goes to trial it becomes THE STATE vs THE OFFENDER

That is the truth; it isn’t really about the true victim any longer. The victim is simply a witness to the crime. No matter how horrific the crime, no matter the terror, no matter the injury, no matter anything at all the victim is simply a witness for the State, the State is in fact the Victim. I always have to remind myself of that simple and ugly truth.

What I really felt that day was what I felt twenty years ago after they were arrested and I sat in the DA’s office talking about their sentencing, I knew someday this day would come. I didn’t know then I would evolve or change, I only knew I was furious and wanted revenge. I told him I didn’t want them in prison I wanted them on their knees in front of me, on a dark street, I wanted the gun they had used to shoot me and I wanted to shoot them in exactly the same way. If they survived as I had, under the very same circumstances they could remain free, if not Que Sera. I was primitive that day. I was primitive twenty years later, it was as if I hadn’t evolved at all and I was a little bit ashamed.

So, back to this has been a rough year. As I line up those dominoes so I can hopefully knock them down. The second letter of parole, yeah that was one, that one knocked me over. That one hurt. Honestly, I don’t often call myself a Victim, I don’t like the word and I certainly don’t like it applied to me. But that day, when I opened that letter Victim was aptly applied to how I felt.

I am struggling to breathe through all these different issues and find my footing. I refuse to allow this year a stranglehold, yes it has been rough, sandpaper would have been gentler. There is light though and it is not a train, my soul takes flight even through these difficult patches of pain, anger and frustration. One by one, I am going to let them go, the dominoes will fall and I am eternally grateful for the wonderful friends in my corner who keep shouting at me…….

JUST BREATH

From Megaphotos, as always dance is my idea of breathing

From Megaphotos, as always dance is my idea of breathing

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.

Senseless Death

I find myself once again dumbfounded, furious and dismayed; a bundle of independent emotions yet completely related to each other. Once again we have a child dead in the street, shot for no apparent reason other than he was young, Black and didn’t appear to belong.

www.bet.com

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin, 17 was nothing more than young and black, that was his ‘crime’. According to the 911 tape, on which his assailant George Zimmerman says ‘These assholes always get away’. Trayvon’s crime? Walking while black in a neighborhood that George Zimmerman had decided he did not belong.  Trayvon apparently carried the cultural weight of suspicion on his young and narrow shoulders.

We will never know what really happened the night of 26-Feb-2012, when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin had their fatal encounter. We will never know because only one of them remains breathing and in this world to tell us, George Zimmerman and he isn’t telling anything that doesn’t serve his own interest. All we are left with is the context of a senseless killing of a young man and a ‘defense’ based on laws that create vigilante ‘justice’ by self-designated citizen police. What we know or can at least extract from pictures and listening to 911 calls is this:

  • George was following Trayvon in his car. George made a 911 call describing Trayvon as suspicious in part because he was young and black.
  • George got out of his car, though he was told not to follow or confront Trayvon.
  • Trayvon ran and George chased him, despite being told not to by the 911 operator.
  • There was a confrontation between the man and the boy. The man shot the boy, killing him. The man has claimed self-defense and is using the “Stand Your Ground” law as the basis of his defense.

What is the likelihood the last statement makes any real sense? That a 17 year-old would confront a man, ten years older and nearly 100 lbs. heavier? Even the bravest, the boldest of young men might be cowed by this skirmish. We hear on the last 911 recordings the calls for help, these calls don’t sound as if they come from a grown man, do they? So what are we left with, what do we have?

www.thedailybeast.com

The Parents of Trayvon Martin

We have a family devastated by the death of their son and without answers to their basic question, “Why?” All we have is a local police that seem to have not done their job, are afraid even to have done the basic job we would expect in investigating the death of a young man, a 17 year old child doing nothing more than walking on the sidewalk in a neighborhood he in fact belonged in. All we have is a state Justice Department, refusing to do their job and turning over their responsibility to the Federal Department of Justice, is this fear or simple incompetence?

What we really have is another senseless death and another family shattered. Another mother laying her child in the cold ground, another father burying his son, another brother growing up without his big brother to guide and mentor him. What do we have? Trayvon Martin walked to the store to buy candy and a drink, upon his return he was met by suspicion and ultimately by lethal force for no reason other than he appeared to not belong. Why? Because he was young and black and George Zimmerman in his self-assigned role of neighborhood watch and apparently enforcement of standards believed he didn’t belong, for this and no other reason Trayvon Martin is dead.

Trayvon Martin is dead before he could vote. Trayvon Martin is dead before his high school graduation. Trayvon Martin is dead before he could make the choices in life most of us take for granted; what we will be when we achieve adulthood, according to his father he wanted to be an airplane engine mechanic. Trayvon Martin is dead before he could marry and have children. Trayvon Martin is dead at 17. What can we do?

www.cbsnews.com

Trayvon Martin
Is this what George Zimmerman saw?

We can demand justice for Trayvon and his family. We can demand the police; the Justice Department at all levels do their job to uncover the entire truth. We can demand those who failed to do their jobs pay the consequence of their inaction. We can refuse a platform to the family of George Zimmerman, the police or the Media that begins to shift the perception of who the victim of this encounter is. George Zimmerman is not the victim, whether he is a cold blooded murder is yet to be determined, nevertheless he is not the victim.

What can we do? We can remember Trayvon Martin, dead at 17, an incomprehensible tragedy.

Free Bird

Twenty years, that was the entire sentence of Anthony, the youngest of my offenders. Twenty years it seems like yesterday, it isn’t though; it is approximately 7,200 days, 172,800 hours, 10,368,000 minutes.

During this same twenty years, most of us would have worked approximately 4,800 days and 40,000 hours.

Articles.businessinsider Image

I bring this up because it is important, Anthony will be released without supervision on March 13, 2012. Without supervision, means he has served his sentence, paid his debt to society, done his time, thus owes nothing to anyone else and can walk out of the Texas prison system a free man. I ponder this and can honestly say I disagree with the States assessment. He still owes me and mine!

I wish I could feel differently, well maybe I don’t really wish for this. Here is the truth of the matter, Anthony was fifteen when he followed his cousin and a friend into carjacking and attempted murder. By all accounts prior to this act, he wasn’t a bad kid, unfortunately, he was wrapped up into bad acts that nearly cost me my life and certainly cost him. He will be thirty-seven years old, a man grown but with no social skills and by all accounts no education, no work skills; fully institutionalized by the twenty years he has spent in the Texas prison system. He didn’t have to choose this, he was given options that would have seen him out in five years, this was his choice.

At no time during his sentence has he taken advantage of the education options open to him. At no time has he ever gone to the prison Chaplin or the Victim Impact counselor and asked to contact me to apologize for his acts. He will walk free, clearly not remorseful. He will walk free, without skills or support. He will walk free after twenty years inside the walls, fully institutionalized, undoubtedly angry and blaming society rather than himself for the conditions of his life.

Image Tradenewswire.net

How do I know these things? I ask, every single time he comes up for parole I ask the same questions in my letters to the Parole Board, I ask. My conditions for parole are the same; my questions are always the same. How can you consider parole for an unrepentant, unprepared offender? How can you consider parole for an offender who has spent his time doing nothing but blame the victim and society? What will his actions be once within society again?

Though I was prepared for this letter, knew it was coming still my heart beat faster and my eyes blurred with unshed tears. Only twenty years, that is all for my life? Every time I think, I am beyond my original fury, beyond asking that single question, why; I find myself directly back in the path of red hot rage. In fact there are times I am barely able to put

Amazon preparing for battle_Wikipedia Image

coherent thought to my feelings, they simply exist in that part of my brain that is not fully civilized.

Twenty years for my life, is this a fair trade? Anthony has spent his youth and grown to manhood in the Texas prison system. He has never touched a woman. He hasn’t married nor had children. He has never held a job, earned a living. He hasn’t owned a car or bought a home. Because of one stupid decision on his part all of the things most of us take for granted, he has forgone every choice he might have had about his life. Anthony is one year older than my eldest son, who has all of those things. Anthony is one year younger, nearly to the day, than my husband; who also has had all of these things.

Twenty years, for my life, I wonder if Anthony thinks this has been a fair trade.

When Lightening Strikes

If you haven’t the strength to impose your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you. T.S Eliot

Flickriver Image

I found that quote years ago while sitting in yet another doctor’s waiting room. It stuck with me. It had been eighteen months since the shooting and I was waiting to find out if I could stop wearing the hard brace. This was my third and hopefully last time with this piece of ugly that wrapped itself around my neck digging into my collarbone and leaving permanent bruises on my shoulders. There were days I felt like  one of the Giraffe Women of Burma.

Still Mad at the World

Up to this point, I had seen more doctors than I could remember. I had already had eight surgeries including the removal of the bullet in my

Not Mine But Close_Google Image

forearm which was a very public event attended by two police officers who took the intact bullet as evidence, that was a treat. I had seen the useless psychologist who specialized in victims of violent crime, his contribution to my recovery was an hours’ worth of, repeat after me, “you have a right to feel that way.” Well hell, I knew that when I got here fool, which unfortunately slipped out of my mouth before I could stop it, my bad. He suggested he might not be the best person to help me, really you think.

Now here I was, sitting in my Neurosurgeons office thumbing through a magazine and there it was my epiphany.

Wow, just Wow

What was I going to do with my new circumstances? I couldn’t change them; there wasn’t a single thing I could do that was going to undo what happened. The real questions I had to ask were these  –

Are you going to be a Victim?

Are you going to be a Survivor?

Or are you going to be something more, are you going to be Victorious?

The answer was clear, getting there not so clear. The path wasn’t at all obvious or straight,

My Road Image My.Opera

not then and truthfully not ever. In fact, even now, nearly twenty years later, I find myself on roads filled with potholes, switchbacks and what feel like insurmountable steep climbs.There are days I want to pull over to the side of the road of my life, curl up and give up. It isn’t fair I think in the back of my mind, that small voice whispers to me, ‘just lay down, someone will come along shortly’.  The truth is, though I have many wonderful people in my life, always have had, the only one that will come along is me. The only person that can force that next step is me, even when it hurts like hell it is still me.

From Victim to Survivor to Victorious

There is no life without bumps in the road, I accept that my life is no different from others. My bumps might be different they are still just bumps. I have been fortunate in my journey of discovery and recovery to meet some amazing people with similar bumps as mine, they taught me about getting up in the morning, breathing through pain, letting go of survivor guilt and most importantly getting too happy.

The Original Story

Crime, Punishment and Victims

Charge

Birth Date

Sentence Date

Release Date

First Parole Eligibility

Att Cap Murder w/ Deadly 12/14/1975 8/12/1992 3/13/2012 3/13/1997
2 Counts Att Cap Murder w/ Deadly 06/18/1976 4/13/93 3/09/2027 07/12/2000
2 Counts Att Cap Murder w/ DeadlyAgg Robbery w/Deadly 03/05/1976 3/08/93 3/05/2027 3/12/2000

The above is not random information designed to entice. This morning my friend and fellow Blogger Red called to ask permission to use information she knows about me as part of her on-going discussion (Reds Crime & Punishment). Of course, I am always happy to contribute, but thought in the interest of disclosure I would provide some of the facts.

Nearly Deadly Night

A night like any other really, the story, in a nutshell, I stopped for cigarettes and gas on my way home from work, it was February 7, 1992,  Benbrook, Texas a suburb of Ft. Worth. From there my nightmares begin, you can read the entire story at the link above, suffice to say my life was changed forever by three teenagers. Carjacked at gunpoint, held for over two hours I knew my life might end and I wasn’t ready. Ultimately, I was shot three times, twice through the neck and once a defensive wound in my forearm.

Funny the things you think about when you believe you might die. After the smoke had cleared and the tail-lights were down the road as I lay curled around myself first thinking how much bullets really hurt when they enter your body, I thought ……they took my brand new pack of cigarettes and just how unfair that was.

1992 UTWatch_ Texas Prison Overcrowding

Giving me Pause

The three young men involved were caught because they made stupid mistakes first in their choice of victims, we survived. Their stupidest mistake though was in committing their crimes in the first place, destroying their lives before they ever started. In all three cases, each of them had one parent serving time; in the case of one both parents were behind bars. This would make them the second generation to share the yard. One of their grandmothers said to the DA, please don’t send him away he is a good boy he thought they were only going to steal cars.

Huh?

In fact, he ended up turning evidence against the other two, he had a good school record, had never been in trouble before this; it is likely he didn’t know what was to come of that night. He tried to stop them but couldn’t and in the end had to back down, how is that for the ultimate peer pressure. This young man ended up with a twenty-year sentence because he thought he was going joy riding.

They Got Time but I Got Life

I will not go into the details here of either the short or long-term damage to my body

Huntsville State Prison – Wikipedia

or soul from this incident. The three offenders will someday walk free, I will never be free and it is extremely likely my life will be shortened by up to twenty years because of their actions and choices. This sentence provides a very different perspective.

I am often asked if I forgive them, the short answer is NO.

Victim Impact

Since I have been back in Texas, I have been privileged to volunteer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in a program called Victim Impact. I wish they would call it something different, but I understand the meaning behind it and my involvement has provided me both insight and opportunity to truly think about the criminal justice system we have today. I have met some amazing people, other Victims also Volunteers, staff members and even on occasion some of the program participants . Heard some heart wrenching stories that make me want to weep, even when hearing them for the tenth time.

The program takes us, the victims inside of State and Federal prisons, State jails, juvenile facilities and parole groups to talk to offenders about what crime does to us how it affects us. The offenders in the prison and jail programs are volunteers who must be approved, they want to be there and it isn’t an easy program. They don’t get a gold star on their jacket for finishing it.

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How I see it

I am not easy and some who hear me speak are offended by my lack of forgiveness. My only response is there will never be forgiveness until there is remorse and reconciliation it isn’t a right and cannot be demanded. My offenders have been up for Parole more than once each, I have been there each time fighting to keep them exactly where they are, through letter writing campaigns and petitions. Their crimes against me and against my family as the extended victims were brutal. I want every day, every hour, every minute the state promised me in the sentence handed down.

Crime and punishment are abstract until they are real. I believe strongly we have a system  that doesn’t serve us properly. We have spent far too long warehousing the non-violent

Garden of Angles dedicated to murder victims

and returning the violent to a society that is not ready for their enhanced skills. We have grown prison populations that include generations, it should be a national shame rather than a source of revenue and pride. Nevertheless, as a victim of a senseless violent crime I am thankful I can participate in the processes that ensure fair sentences meted out and completed when appropriate.

Some think me hard, others think I am vindictive demanding my pound of flesh. The truth of it is I don’t believe in forgiveness as a right and I don’t believe those that do me and mine harm should be able to demand their freedom. They caused immeasurable and have never said those simple words “I am sorry”. So why should I ever lift my demands they serve their sentences.

I will continue this some other time. There is far more to discuss on this subject.

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