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.

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