Just One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are days when I cannot get out of bed without wanting to curl into a ball and weep. Days when my entire body feels as if someone has poured kerosene over me and lit a match as they gleefully danced over my burning body, kicking the ashes simply to add insult to injury. There are days I spend the entire day wanting to slap my left side, it feels as if Fire Ants are crawling just under my skin biting me from the inside out. Some days I spend walking, sitting and standing as if I am still in a neck brace, you know those hard flesh toned ones that push your head up and create furrows in your shoulders, I still remember what they feel like and still hold my head exactly so. Some days, when I feel as if my very best option is to curl into a corner and weep in pain and frustration, I can’t do that even because my body will not follow my desire without screaming in protest.

This was one of those weeks, when my body hurt and thus my mind, my spirit followed the path of pain protesting, ‘it isn’t fair’. The funny thing about weeks like this? No one knows, I never tell and no one seems to notice, no one ever asks if I am okay, for more than a decade now it seems no one asks. Maybe they have simply decided I am not allowed my pain or my weakness. There are times this infuriates me. This week was one of those times.

This week I was the sole speaker for two very different Victim Impact groups, the first an adult Parolee the other a juvenile START. In each case, I found myself judged harshly by those who were there to listen, learn and with some luck consider a different direction. Oddly, the judgment was for similar reason, the discussion though took very different directions. I will say this, after the first I was emotionally wrung out, wondering why I subjected myself to these, after the second I remembered why.

Plagal or Amen cadence

Plagal or Amen cadence

The content of Victim Impact is always the same the cadence though each time is different and depends on how I feel, physically, spiritually and  sometimes the vibe of the audience sets a tone. This audience was odd, mixed in their willingness to hear me their hostility at being there. There curiosity to hear the story wars with their feigned boredom, their world weary slump in the seat. I know how to hold them though, as I tell the story of the night I became a ‘Victim’ and then a ‘Survivor’ and ultimately ‘Victorious’, obviously this didn’t happen in a single night but over time and not without work.

I don’t hide some of my history, I tell truths about being a runaway, being a delinquent and ultimately making different life choices. I also talk about my offenders, their choices, their youth and the struggle I have even now with the sentences they received, despite the terrible damage they caused to me, my family and their other victims. I do not shy away from the issue of race, it played a key role in why they chose me and their other victims, thus it has to be part of the conversation.

I have been doing Victim Impact for nearly ten years now. When I first started, I was afraid and still very angry. When I first started, I had no peace in my soul so every single time I spoke there was a small ball of fury caught in my throat. Slowly that ball dissipated, I learned from those I was supposed to be teaching and from others who spoke.

Right ShoulderI was asked recently by someone I love, if I could go back in time and change that one day would I do so and my answer was no. I know in my heart what happened was simply a part of the trajectory of my life, part of what made me who and what I am. I could wish for a different lesson book, a different manner in which I got to this precise moment in time but I cannot wish to be a different person.

On Wednesday the same question was asked, would I change it and the answer was still no. The problem was what came before that question was a discussion of forgiveness and a demand that I forgive my offenders because, wait for it:

“It is the Christian thing to do”

“You will never be free until you do”

“It isn’t right to hold a grudge”

“They deserve to be forgiven”

Forgiveness is always part of the discussion, I suspect because everyone wants to know they can be forgiven. Here is what I said, not once but twice within a 24-hour time span.

I do not owe it. I do not offer it freely. I also do not withhold it. Were any of my offenders to come to me with open heart and hands, offering true and honest remorse for their actions I would likely forgive them, but only for the harm they did directly to me. I cannot offer forgiveness for the harm they did, the pain they caused to others, including my parents, sons, spouse, siblings and friends; that forgiveness isn’t mine to give.

Forgiveness without remorse is a cheap imitation and only makes others feel good. It is a good storyline in books and made for TV movies.

I am not Christian thus am not held captive by any man’s version of religious compromise or its accompanying guilt.

I do not owe forgiveness for my own freedom I am already free.

This was a very difficult philosophical stance for those in the audience to ‘get’. After a 5-minute discussion, I called a stop. It was stunning, usually I have a sense of humor about most things, that night and after that discussion, my humor fled.tears_of_sadness

One person had the audacity to say to me, “Well, would you rather be dead. You have told us all about how hard it was, you haven’t said how grateful you are to be alive.”

I told him I was. Then I told him about living in pain, every single day for the past twenty-two years, I explained the pain meter and how I was never below a four on that meter, never. I told him I was grateful I outlived both my parents that I was glad I could be beside them when they passed. Then I explained this wasn’t what we were there for, that my survival was only testament to my strength and they were all sitting in those hard seats to learn what it meant to be a victim of violence from the point of view of the victim. They didn’t need to know we could survive, they didn’t need hearts and flowers about how grateful we were for our lives after brutality, but that under that survival was pain. To learn empathy and compassion they had to see our pain and our humanity.

Another person wanted to go down the path of victim blaming, that perhaps, somehow and in some way I shared blame in my carjacking and shooting. Well yes, of course that must be true. My aliveness, my drawing breath, my being there in a perfectly safe place, at 7pm on a February evening, yes that makes me share the blame. It truly is a great thing I am the person I am, my temptation was to nail him in the forehead with my high-heel.

As I said, I did two of these this week. One with Adult Parolee’s and the other with Juveniles, the first was with the adults and you have seen a glimpse of that one here. It shredded me, wrung me out. There were a few bright spots but not many. The second though, with the young people though we had similar discussions about forgiveness, empathy and compassion; well, at the end of it my spirit was once again lifted. I was once again reminded why even when it is hard I will continue to do this.

48347979001_67684328001_wake19-173-1266760650819I always say, give me just one heart, just one mind each time I speak; I am pleased and I have done good work.

 

Hope and Hard Places

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday I struggled, all day in fact I struggled. My emotions raged and I didn’t want to do what I had committed to, truthfully I wanted to pick up the phone and call my friend and say, ‘Hell no, I am not making that drive and standing up to tell that story’.

That is what I wanted to do.

Yesterday, I woke in the morning with Victim Impact on my calendar. Not just any victim impact but the hardest victim impact, Sexual Offender Victim Impact. Yes, they are juveniles, they aren’t hardened and terrible molesters and in many cases, they are young men who are being criminalized for having consensual sex with their girlfriends, but not always. In this case, this was the parole group, their parents were there with them. I had forgotten, it wasn’t just the kids it was the adults too. Yesterday I woke up and all I could think, I wasn’t in the space head or heart to do what I had promised.

Yesterday, was hard and I didn’t know why. The truth is, I believe what I do is good. I believe down to my bones and my soul, if we can we should. If we have the strength to stand up and tell our stories, we should. If we can reach these young people, tell them who we are, show them our faces and the impact of their actions but also that one mistake doesn’t have to define their entire futures, we should. If we can reach them, if we can show tradenewswirenetthem the face of compassion, perhaps we can also change the trajectory of their lives, maybe we can change the inevitable outcome so many of them face, from classroom to prison cell. I have always said, as if it is a mantra, give me just one and it is worth it, one out of every session that I reach and who hears then it is worth it, every one after one is a gift.

I have spent ten years standing up, telling my stories, staring into the faces of young people and adults alike. Sometimes, like yesterday it is hard as hell and I don’t want to do it. Some days like yesterday, my heart falters, I stumble and feel bruised and battered. Yesterday, yesterday though it was worse than normal, I don’t know why or maybe I do. It was bad because I am more battered by everything and am feeling a bit less hopeful than normal, a bit less strong, a bit less like I can conquer the world. I hate that, I hate not being strong, not being fully in control of my emotions and my world. In fact it pisses me the hell right off.

Yesterday, I reached out to a friend who I love and respect for his ability to cut through the bullshit, in spare and simple words, after a short back and forth about what I was feeling this was his response:

Maybe what you are doing with this victim impact with sexual offenders is a good thing, but just maybe you are not now, at this place in time and your life, ready to do that. Maybe at a later time you will be strong enough to do this victim impact with sexual offenders and not experience the turmoil you now feel. Maybe you need a break, after all you are human, and feel things.”

I hate he is right, it would be easier if he weren’t right , easier if I could ignore his analysis and find some different answer. The truth is, I was in turmoil. My heart was fighting me all day because I simply didn’t have the emotional strength to do what I had promised. I did it, not because I wanted to save that one young person, because I wanted to storm the gates but because I had made a commitment and there was no one else. I wouldn’t let people down who depended on me, I did it out of obligation and long-standing relationships.

I did something else though, I took myself out of next quarter for all Victim Impact for Sexual Offenders. I can’t do it. I know there are so few of us in the state, taking myself out leaves them short but my friend is right, I am human and I need a break it is hard and I don’t have to prove I am strong I have to heal from what has broken me. I have to get my own house in order before I can return to saving others, no matter how much I believe, heart and soul, part of why I do Victim Impact is a mission of hope and compassion. If I am going to bring that into the room, I have to feel it and show it to myself.

Last night I stood up, I told the story of a brutal rape of an eleven year old child, I stared into the faces of teenagers and their parents and told them what happened afterwards. How that rape changed my life and the lives of my family. I watched as mothers winced when I used the words;

  • Bitch
  • Slut
  • Whore and Ho

I watched as young men wanted to fight when I asked them what the difference was between calling their mother a bitch or calling a girl on the street a bitch. I thanked a mother who in tears blessed me for my ‘testimony’, while acknowledging I did not speak from a Christian position she told me I had touched her spirit and she would remember, her son approached me afterward shook my hand and thanked me also. I spoke to a young man who told me he wanted to be an engineer but was afraid he wouldn’t make it into college now, because of this because he had sex with his girlfriend; all I could tell him was to work with the judge and his parole officer to find a way.

Yesterday was hard. Before I walked in the door I called my friend, I need a voice beside the one in my head. Maybe what I needed was to hear my own voice out loud, saying why I do this;

‘Because despite everything I believe in hope, I believe in love, shit I still believe in knights on white horses who slay monsters. I am not naïve I know the monsters exist, I have met too many of them; but I still believe in www.forum.nethope and love and I think they might be part of the same thing.’

Yesterday was hard. I need a break. I need to take care of myself. I need a little bit of tenderness and care. So I won’t do these, at least not the Sexual Offenders, for the next quarter maybe not any of them. I think my friend is right and I will listen because there is no sense in doing what is that hard, no sense in brutalizing myself.

Heartbreak at START

my.operaLast Thursday was Victim Impact with young people in the START (Short Term Residential Treatment) program. This where juveniles land when all else fails, when probation conditions have been broken and less intensive interventions are not working. START is the last stop before full on detention in one of Texas’ lock-down facilities is ordered. The program is 90 days, includes peer-to-peer counseling, one-on-one counseling, group counseling, educational resources, parent inclusion and of course Victim Impact.

I have been doing Victim Impact for years now; you would think it would get easier to tell the story, it doesn’t. You would think it wouldn’t hurt so much; you would be wrong. Some days it is worse than others, there are days when my calendar pops up to remind, ready myself to make the drive to whatever facility I am speaking and my heart clenches, my eyes tear up and I think to myself, “what if I just call and cancel, say I am ill or have had a fatal accident.” I never do though, not once in all these years, no matter how much I didn’t want to stand up and tell the story.

Last week, was one of those days. I didn’t want to stand up and talk. I didn’t want to talk about what happened to my family. I didn’t want to talk about the three young men who ruined their own lives. Last week, I simply didn’t want to do any of it. Last week I found myself hard pressed to find compassion in my soul, the one thing I need when I look into the faces of these young people and tell my story.

Sixteen young men and one young woman marched single file into the room and took their seats. If I had to guess their ages, they were between fourteen and sixteen. None older than sixteen, none younger than thirteen, I have seen them younger but I have never seen them older. These are hard young people; they have seen the world through the prism of indifference, anger, hunger, bad schools, racism, drugs, violence, the foster care system and a host of other things most of us can never imagine, not in our wildest and worst nightmares. This program, it is their last shot before they are permanently marked as unsalvageable and outside of societies care.

Image Tradenewswire.net

Image Tradenewswire.net

Despite the admonishment to sit up straight, they slouched down in their seats staring at their own or my feet. There was a rumble through the introductions; my audience clearly did not want to be in this small cramped room to hear what I had to say. Well, honestly, the feeling was mutual but nevertheless here we all were and we were going to get through this together.

When you look at me what do you see?

Every time I start the same, it breaks the ice and helps me understand how far in the process each group is. Their answers rarely differ much, though sometimes we have some fun. This group, they were more observant than most:

  • Scars, you have had a hard life.
  • Tattoos, a few were showing despite being mostly covered by sleeves and pants.
    • ‘You’re OG aren’t you?’
  • Lots of piercings.
  • You thick (said quietly until I made him speak up) then there was lots of laughter.
  • You dress good.
    • I said well and got blank stares, so I explained.
  • You white.
  • You hard but you smile.
  • You seem like you smart.

That was the list. There were a few more, mostly about my clothes, my hair, my eye color. The list is so they can think about it as I talk and so I can reference it when I am done, so I can make my own list.

The story is always the same; it doesn’t change how could it? Slowly their attention begins to shift from the floor to me. This also isn’t unusual; I am a good storyteller able to speak to them in a language they understand with characters they might have known. The protagonists could be them, the victim not a hero but someone they can see. I don’t hold them for ransom keeping the spotlight all to myself instead I allow discussion throughout.

We talk, I answer their questions; some are silly. Yes, it does hurt to be shot. Some are not silly and I have answered this one more than once, No, I do not regret offering to help a young man I thought was in trouble, though the outcome was something terrible. Some questions are hard though I am asked every single time I speak; No, I do not hate Black people, no I am not afraid of Black men young or old, no I do not even hate my offenders.

Then I was asked a question that broke my heart.

“Do you ever wish you hadn’t lived, with all the pain you have suffered since then; do you ever wish you hadn’t survived?”

The question stunned me. I looked into the eyes of this young man, he couldn’t have been more than fifteen, his eyes held such pain. My heart cracked a little bit as I tried to draw air into my lungs and search for the right answer to give. The real answer was, ‘yes, in the early days sometimes I did wish that.’ This though was my answer.

‘No, I don’t regret living. I don’t even regret the pain; it reminds me I am alive. If I hadn’t lived, I would have missed all the joys in my life. Like seeing, my sons marry and holding my grandchildren, like falling in love, more than once. If I hadn’t lived, I wouldn’t have known what it meant to be stronger than I ever knew was possible, overcoming more than I thought possible, learning to walk again and the great joy of going dancing again for the very first time. No, I don’t regret living.’

In that moment, I felt my compassion finally bloom.

I stared at that young man, but at all the young people in the room. I told them again, they had great worth; they were worth more than they believed and they could choose to be more. I told them again I believed and that was why, even when I didn’t want to, I got there and I stood up and talked to them. They asked how I climbed out of where I started from; I told them I read books. They asked what books, I gave them reading lists. I don’t lie to them, I tell them truth about my life, where I came from and what I did that I was really one of them at one time, ‘A real OG.’

Two hours and some change later, I gave them my list:

  • Mother
  • Grandmother
  • Sister
  • Aunt
  • Friend

When they can see a stranger on the street, see instead of ‘other’ they are the same, then they will begin to understand empathy and compassion. By the end though, that is what they saw in me. They didn’t care I wouldn’t tell them my race or ethnic heritage, only that I told them it wasn’t important. They didn’t care that I wouldn’t tell them my religion, only that it informed me.

In my hour-long drive home, I couldn’t stop thinking of some of these young people, the ones who might make it and those who likely wouldn’t. The ones who fronted to look hard but asked questions that told a different story. I weep, for them and for us. We fail them, each time we cut back on education and services, when a young person says to me his only option is to commit crimes if he and his siblings are going to eat that day, I weep. When a young man hangs his head and repeats my story of delinquency, foster care and running away, holding his head in his hands; I know it is his story. I weep. When a young man begs for a reading list because his school isn’t serving him, hungry for knowledge and way out, I weep.

Argicles.businessinsider Image

Argicles.businessinsider Image

 

So should we all weep. But when a young man asks if I sometimes wish I hadn’t survived, then my heart breaks because no fifteen year old child should know that much pain. Ever.

 

Victim Impact the Series: https://valentinelogar.com/category/series-victim-impact/

The Story: https://valentinelogar.com/category/series-crime-and-punishment/

Calm Waters

Does the world ever cause you to shake your head in dismay? It does me. There are times it seems we fail to remember our humanity in favor, some lower form, some mockery of all forms we have aspired to through the ages of our span here as humans. We are granted only a short time on earth, in the grand scheme of things just a few short decades to make our mark. Yet for so many of us it seems, our time is spent kicking those who most need a hand up or kicking sand over the footprints that might lead to the path out of the darkness rather than reaching out with a light to show the way.

Despite my recent rant, I have been paying attention to something other than my own desires. I have also been thinking about my recent visits to prisons and juvenile centers. For some reason these have been particularly difficult for me this season, especially the juvenile center and the young men I met there. I have been doing the Victim Impact groups for years now, nine to be exact. Some years are harder than others; I change year to year. My emotional response to what happened to me changes and thus the story changes. The facts don’t change, just how I feel about it. This year of course the real change was all my offenders have been released after twenty years, telling this part of the story was new for me.

Three of the groups were new for me also. Smaller groups, more personal somehow more in my face and perhaps me more in theirs. I don’t think I realized the small ball of anger I had in my heart at the release of my offenders. That anger was why I didn’t want to speak this season, I didn’t want to take my anger into that audience, that anger defeated my reason for speaking and defeated me.

41510_prison-gatesThere is always one, in every group there is always one and the first group of this season was no different. One who thinks I should be sorry for demanding they remain in prison despite their age. One who thinks I somehow ‘victimized’ my offenders despite their offenses against me and their lack of remorse. One who thinks I am somehow the one who should be sorry. Yes, there is always one. This time though I wasn’t my usual pragmatic and willing to discuss his point of view self. No, this time I pulled up a chair and faced him down, I explained what they did was unforgiveable and my loss was unrecoverable. I explained his use of the race card didn’t carry weight since their reason was racial hatred, they didn’t get a pass for historical offenses to which I had no part of. I explained their youth didn’t get them a pass since at their age I was an emancipated adult earning my own way, living on the streets and finding a way to survive.

No, they didn’t get a pass. No matter my instinct as a mother, I wept for them and for their lost youth. No matter my instinct as a human being, I wept for their lost opportunity. No, they didn’t get a pass because they felt no remorse for their terrible acts.

Interestingly, his fellows shut him down. Nearly shouted him down after I was done, I have to wonder if their discussions continued after I left.

Kutnews Image

The juvenile group was different though. I still ache for these young men. I look in their faces and know they are not lost yet, know at least some of them can be saved. Some of them are so young, no older than twelve or thirteen. So eager to talk once they realize I am not going to lecture them but instead going to engage them in discussion and open forum. That I will allow for questions and will answer them as honestly as possible. They think I am funny, they realize I don’t hate them and am not scared of them despite what has happened to me. I tell them, I was once just like them a juvenile delinquent someone the courts held no hope for. When I tell them this, at first they don’t believe me then a light shines in their eyes and they begin to open up.

There was one this time, at first he made clear he didn’t want to be there. He sat with arms crossed in front of him and glared. He was a leader, it was clear. He thought he was all that and so did all the young men around him. If these young men were going to learn anything he was going to have to be won over, he was my target. He was so smart, so full of life and so lost. I won him within ten minutes just by talking to him.

I made him laugh. He asked me if I was afraid of him, if I was afraid of black men, or young black men. I asked him why I would be. He explained to me, because young black men had shot me. Well of course, that makes sense I said. I asked him should I be afraid of all teenagers. He asked why I would be afraid of all teenagers. I explained teenagers shot me, that made as much sense. He stared at me for a few seconds and started laughing, told me that was stupid and I said so was his premise. He asked what a premise was, I explained it to him. From then on the entire group talked, asked questions.

His friend made me want to cry. When we talked about how to change directions, who they had to apologize to and how to start on a new path one of the key components to success was family. Support structures, their need to be strong support for their younger siblings and begin to show their families positive changes to build trust. His friend quietly asked, “What if you don’t have a family?”

Some of these young men don’t have families to return to. It is why they are there, in ‘jail’. They have nowhere to go, no place to call home. This is it. Home is a place with bars on the windows, shackles on their ankles and a future that is bleak, at best.

I left that day feeling glad I hadn’t begged off despite not wanting to be there. I was reminded why I do Victim Impact, touching one life it is worth it. It has taken me a few weeks to write about this season, it was a hard one. I can’t say I don’t know why, I do. Each season is different, this one was hard but taught me lessons I needed to learn. Lessons about anger and letting go, lessons about humility.

Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained you shall live. Marcus Aurelius

Consistent Consent

justiceAs part of my Victim Impact volunteer work, I speak in Juvenile programs, a little over a year ago, I came out to one of my long-standing coordinators about my experience as a juvenile rape victim. Since that time, I have taken on a very difficult program, the juvenile sexual predators Victim Impact. The make-up of this group is tough:

  • 95% male, in fact to date I haven’t seen any girls.
  • All incarcerated, none are on probation or parole when they attend.
  • All under 18, the youngest I have had in a group is twelve (12).
  • All their cases have been adjudicated, some will release as inmates from Juvenile others will be moved to the adult system.

This is a delicate and often troublesome issue, one that crosses many boundaries. People from all walks of life, when asked have an opinion, yet many have not considered the disparities found state to state. There are variations on the theme, the age of consent is neither standard nor clear anywhere in this country, it differs depending upon the situation, for example:

  • South Carolina a female may consent at 14 a male 16, unless either is homosexual in which case they may never consent.
  • West Virginia males and females may consent to heterosexual encounters at 17 but must wait if they are homosexual until they are 18.
  • New York consent is 17 across the board no matter your orientation.
  • New Jersey law says at 16 you can consent without regard to orientation.
  • New Hampshire says that if you are heterosexual you are ready at 16 but have to wait till 18 if you are homosexual.
  • Montana claims that girls at 16 can consent but boys and homosexuals must wait till they are 18.
  • Texas says any person of 17 may consent. Texas has a built in Romeo and Juliet loophole of three (3) years, a DA or Judge may ignore if they choose. The other legal problem Texans have, sodomy for everyone is illegal, at any age; this includes all forms of non-vaginal sex.

The list goes on, state by state, the picture becoming clear. The lack of consistency nationwide places young men and women at risk. These risks include the possibility of becoming victims of predators or becoming victims of a legal system that could brand them as sexual predators for the rest of their lives. Why is this important? Why should we be bothered if predators are put away? Good question, I can answer that.

What about the Jimmy the high-school football hero? You know the one, he worked hard, studied hard, plays hard and hasn’t joined a gang. He caught the winning ball at the last game of the season. He has a shot at college and will be the first one in his family who might make it. You know him, we all have read stories about him. Well, he broke up with his girlfriend and she cried rape. Her father, mad at our hero called the courtesy bleacherreport.compolice and they took our high-school hero and his girlfriend’s claims of rape to the DA, who proceeded to prosecute. Now, instead of college Jimmy is sitting in Jail, when he gets out he will have be on the sexual predator list, for life.

This is the other side of the horror story currently unfolding in Steubenville, Ohio. This case has created a public outcry the facts around it though are not a case of consensual sex. This case is about rape, two of the minors involved go on trial in juvenile court on February 13.

I believe the Age of Consent laws are antiquated, they do not address the needs of our communities nor the realities of our society. We desperately need to ensure we have in place laws that are both unvarying and appropriate so children and young adults are protected wherever they might be and under whatever circumstances they might be in. Where once young people rarely traveled outside of their home town during their teenage years today they do so on a regular basis. Young people today frequently have access to their own credit cards, cell phones and transportation making the possibility of a trip outside their home state likely. Today it is easier to exploit a child than ever before. To ensure there is no question of the consequences of their choices it is critical national standards be in place, be communicated and be consistently administered.

Many today are concerned with states’ rights and the amount of power the federal government is ‘grabbing’, however, there are functions, such as this that would be best addressed by a national standard. As a society, we should consider what is important, what must take precedence; the protection of our next generation is one of those critically important issues. While the age of consent might seem a minor problem in comparison to other more weighty issues facing our country, consider the repercussions of not protecting our children. What will happen as those young unprotected children grow into adults?

I do not claim this single small thing, creating a national Age of Consent standard will stop the growing evil of predators. I do not claim it will suddenly balance the scales for our young people. However, I do believe if everyone understands the rules, our focus will shift to more important issues. With national standards we will start to see consistent prosecution of predators and we will stop seeing young lives ruined with inconsistent or absurd prosecution of laws that should never have been applied in the circumstances. We will start seeing the focus on other more important issues, education, reduction of teenage pregnancy, strengthening the foundation of the future.

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.

Revocation

Dear Valentine (I love how they make it personal)

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division issued a pre-revocation warrant for the arrest of this offender due to violation of supervision.

Offender: ASSHAT THAT WIELDED A GUN TO SHOOT YOU ON A DARK NIGHT NEARLY 21 YEARS AGO

STATE ID: XXX                                    TDCJ ID: YYYY

Date Pre-Revocation Warrant Issued: 1/6/2013

For information contact FORT WORTH DPO 3 or call (XXX) XXX-XXXX.

If this offender is returned to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (meaning back to prison to serve the rest of his 35 years), you will be notified of further actions and given the opportunity to provide your input. To find out if the offender is in custody, you may contact Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) service at (XXX) XXXX or at their website.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

41510_prison-gatesThe above is part of the letter I received from Angela McCown, Director of Victim Services in Austin in reference to the status of one of the AssHat offenders who on February 7, 1992 kidnapped me, shot me three times and left me to die on a dark road alone. For his crime against me and another victim in a separate offense, equally heinous he received a sentence of 35 years.

In October, despite my active role in his parole hearing, in all his parole hearings over the past 20 years he was granted parole. He walked out of prison free but for supervision. So fine, not free supervised. Still more free than he had been, free to get a job. Free to see his family. Free to have sex with a woman. Free drive a car. Free dammit, free to breath air not filled with the smells of other men.

I asked time and again, why would you consider parole for a person so obviously not prepared for freedom. Why?

There never was an answer. Perhaps the answer was 20 years was enough. Well, now they have their answer. No, it effing was not enough. Some people simply do not appreciate the gift you give them. Some people are not sorry; some people are not capable of learning from their mistakes. Some people are never going to be ready for the world and the world should never be subjected to them.

This person is perhaps one of them. At seventeen years of age, this person picked up a gun and said I want to kill white people. With that in mind, this person recruited friends and set about on a rampage to do just that. The harm he caused to his victims and their families was life-long, we do not get parole from our injuries. He has never shown any remorse for his actions, not once not ever not in any of his parole hearings has he ever once made a statement that indicated he understood his actions or was remorseful.

They should never have granted his parole, ever. Now, not even six-months of freedom and a warrant is issued.

GOOD!

It is my hope they find him soon. Yes, I already checked. No, he is not in custody yet.

It is my fervent hope they return him to serve the remainder of his sentence. Perhaps in the remaining fifteen years, he will find his soul and discover his heart. Perhaps he will learn remorse and humanity.

In the meantime, it is fervent hope he has not harmed anyone during his taste of freedom.

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

Victim Impact Evolution

Tuesday night I was at the Federal Prison (FCI) in Fort Worth as the single speaker for Victim Impact group. I don’t know if they had other speakers on previous nights or if they will have others on following nights, I do know

FCI Fort Worth, Enterance

the Fort Worth program is unique in several ways from other programs I participate in, here is how:

  1. There is always only one speaker per night
  2. Often the participants take the program more than once
  3. Smaller groups

Victim Impact is intended to help offenders gain insight and understanding into the affect their actions have on others. It is a voluntary program for those on the inside. Those of us who speak are also volunteers; we didn’t volunteer to be victims obviously, only to ultimately step outside of our rage and pain to tell our stories where it might do the most good.

I always have mixed emotions heading into the Victim Impact Groups. My mind sprints down well-worn paths, through dark times in preparation, honestly I never know what I will say or what direction I will go. At Fort Worth FCI the entire two hours is mine, it isn’t the panel sessions where there are three to four speakers, this is my time to shock and awe. This time was different; so much has changed in the last year. Some of those changes caused me to retreat inside myself, to live within my own battered emotional landscape this was part of my evolution. Some were normal justice system; the first release of one of my attackers last month and then within 10 days of each other, notification the two others were entering the Parole system. I am having to rethink my position on a great many things, my normal calm was well, not so calm.

FCI Fort Worth Fenceline, perhaps my own as well

I usually like Fort Worth FCI, I like the smaller groups and for some strange reason I like the interaction; it is less formal, less structured than the other panels. Yes, it is still a Federal Prison and yes I still walk through the gates that clang loudly as they shut behind me and through the yard, always a strange journey; yes, I am still facing a group of offenders and delivering ‘my story’ so they might learn something from it. There was a difference this time though, as I drove the hour to my destination I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was a difference. I don’t usually have speakers’ nerves, this time I couldn’t focus my thoughts, something right under the surface kept beating against the door kept locked tightly, my emotional reserve.

The cliff notes version of what we are supposed to say:

  1. Tell the story of what happened, how you became a victim
  2. Tell the impact of the crime
  3. Make it real and make it emotional

Usually when any of us speak the story is the largest part of our time, all the details all the horrifying gruesome details. I don’t know why this is but for some reason this is what we have taught each other to do, to make the violence real. This is especially true for those of us who are first person victims, there aren’t many of us, but for those of us who are willing to stand up we have been coached and so we follow that three part script.

This time I found myself standing in from of thirty men, some of whom I had seen in the program before all staring at me expectantly and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t follow the script. I had all this time to fill and I simply could not do what was expected of me. My voice has changed; my story has changed in the twenty years since the crime I have evolved and in the year since I had last been at FCI things had happened that had caused me to re-think some of my positions.

MAAT Goddess of Truth and Justice, Courtesy of Wikipedia

I told my story, that hasn’t changed the violence and the facts haven’t changed.

I told the impact on my family and friends, that hasn’t changed it is only the truth.

Then I talked about evolution, my own. I talked about how it felt to know the first of my attackers was out and free. Not about my anger, my fear for him not of him, his entire life lost for a stupid childhood choice. I talked about their choices as well, their children as victims just like the three who shot me. I talked about Remorse and the need to hear the words and see acts of contrition, not simply because these words and deeds move an offender towards early release, but because they are true and heartfelt. I talked about Forgiveness and the truth of it, not that it is due or a right, but instead it is a gift they may never receive, not from any of their victims including their families.

I talked for an hour. After that hour I opened the floor and instead of talking at the group I talked with them. The one question that nearly tipped me over the edge:

Had I ever considered ‘they’ were my victims as much as I was their victim?

My answer was of course NO. His explanation was that by demanding justice, by demanding they remain in prison for their full term, by continuing to ask how the state could consider Parole where there was no sign of remorse I was victimizing. That perhaps they did feel remorse but did not know how to express it; he felt remorse for his bad acts but had difficulty. I simply pointed out that he was taking steps to learn by participating in the Victim Impact Program; but never could he equate my demand for justice as a victimization of my attackers. They got time, I got life.

A comment from one of the participants who had been in the program previously:

You are calmer now, not so angry.

Finally one of the questions that I thought was interesting and generated some discussion:

How do you not hate?

I am going to leave this one open to anyone who wants to answer it. I might come back and answer later, it is funny but I have never hated my attackers.

My plate has been full lately and I am trying hard to find my normal balance, my normal pragmatism hasn’t been in operational mode. It is the season of Victim Impact, I am wondering if I should sit this year out, try to shake what holding me hostage the fence line holding me back.

Original Story: https://valentinelogar.com/2011/12/11/231/

What Do You See

What do you see when you look at me? Through the years, I have worn many hats, played many roles and had many titles. But when you look at me what do you see?

I have participated in a program in Texas called Victim Impact for several years now. This program is intended to bring together ‘offenders’ and crime victims in an effort to build understanding and hopefully empathy in the offenders. While in some cases the program does bring face-to-face victims and their real offender, this isn’t the part of the program I volunteer in. The program I participate in is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, sponsored by the State Attorney General. The Victim Impact Panels are conducted inside of Federal and State Prisons, County and State Juvenile Centers and for Paroled Adults and Teens. The intent and mission of the program is the development of empathy and compassion, something that is usually missing in offender’s make-up.

I often ask this question as part of my speaking portion of Victim Impact.

What do you see when you look at me?

  • Woman
  • White Woman
  • Blonde, Red Head, Brunette (depends on my choices it changes)
  • Beautiful Woman (I forgive them this many have been for a long time)
  • Mean Woman (lots of kids in the juvenile centers give this answer)
  • Victim (well they know this so they would see this)
  • Well-dressed woman (I usually dress in work clothes)
  • Rich Woman (I get this one often and always find it interesting, we aren’t allowed jewelry)
  • Tall Woman (I wear 5-inch heels but usually my pants conceal this)

The above are just some of the answers. Notice anything missing from this list? How about the following:

  • Mother
  • Sister
  • Daugher
  • Wife
  • Girlfriend
  • Grandmother

These are all the things necessary to see to humanize me, to make me real. What about the rest of us, how do we look out into the world at others, through the prism of our expectations and experiences? What do we see when we meet others, whether formally, informally or simply through media exposure.

Over the years, I have been brought face-to-face with men who have spent their entire adult lives in prison. When I first started this journey I will admit, my heart was hard and my mind closed, I was there for me I wanted them to feel my pain, my hurt and how my life crashed and burned. But then something changed in me and my heart started to shift. Perhaps it was the first program I did with juvenile offenders, thirty young men in a room; CorrectionsReport.comeach one had to stand and say how old they were, why they were there and for how long. Perhaps it was the first time I met young girls, some as young as thirteen in for prostitution, being punished for nothing less than being exploited, sold mainly by adults and to adults their youth laid to waste. While the young always leave me with holes in my heart and my soul crying for a justice that seems to be sadly missing in their young lives, I think this isn’t the one.

There is always a question and answer period after we speak our truths. There are usually at least three of us speaking on any panel. Sometimes questions are directed at one of us specifically other times someone will just speak to all of us, this was one of those occasions.

At one of the State Penitentiary’s a man stood up and thanked us he was about my age. He proceeded to tell us he had spent most of his adult life in prison. He had three children he had not been there for. One son was in prison, serving 20 years. His daughter would not visit him, hadn’t done so in years, wouldn’t return his letters either. Now his youngest son was facing capital murder and the DA had filed for the Death Penalty, this man would likely never see his child again, as he told his story tears rolled down his face.

What did I see when I looked at him?

  • Father

I had always talked about the need for these men to reach out to their families, who were their victims as much as we were. I had never seen them though, not really. I had pragmatically understood the rules of the game, they couldn’t get into the program without a recommendation from a Chaplin or the program coordinator, it wasn’t a gimmee. They didn’t get a gold star in their jacket for participating; they had to want to be there. But I didn’t see them, not really not till that day.

JungleMagazine.comSo what do we see when first meet another person? Do we define them by their outward appearance? Do we exclude them if they don’t live up to our standards? Do we judge them harshly or simply see through them.

What do we see when we look at another person?

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