Two years ago this Spring, I stood in a courtroom and read to the judge, the Assistant D.A., the lawyers, the offender, his family and the rest of the court room, a statement outlying the immediate impact the offender’s actions had on our family. Standing by my side was the parole officer assigned to our case. That September, she started a Victim’s Impact Panel in the county I live in. Normally, such panels consist of victims of alcohol related crimes. This new panel is comprised of victims of felony crimes. Every six months since then, a small group of speakers is assembled at our Police Station’s Community Center to share our stories; what happened and the impact of what happened on our lives. I’ve been asked to speak three out of the four times the panel’s been assembled.
What do you do there? Is the audience only criminals? Are the police there?
These are some of the questions my soon to be 11-year-old daughter started asking me last Tuesday when I told her I would be speaking on the Panel again and wouldn’t be able to pick her up from school Thursday.
Well, I said, I tell them what happened and how it affected our family and yes, the audience is just criminals. They’re convicted felons and armed officers are scattered throughout the room.
How come you didn’t go last time? She asked.
Because Brian was there. I said.
In our case, Brian, is the offender. He’s the young man who’d been breaking into our house repeatedly for more than four months two winters ago. I wasn’t called last time because protocol says the victim should not speak at the same panel the offender is attending.
Did he have to go last time?
Yes. I said. It’s mandated; part of his sentence.
Can children go? She asked.
Do the criminals get to speak at the panel?
No. They’re not allowed to speak at all. They can write a question for one of us on an index card, pass it over to an officer and we can choose to answer or not answer it. When we’re all done speaking, we leave the room.
The audience members sit three to a table. There’s a questionnaire in front of them that they have to answer before they can leave. The parole officer collects them and brings them back to us.
We go to a different room and talk. There’s a person there that helps us work through any hard parts and then we get to look at the questionnaires.
What kind of questions are on the questionnaire? She wanted to know.
Oh, things like, what crime did you commit? Are you paying restitution? Who was affected by your crime? What do you think the impact of your crime was on your victim? Which of the victim’s stories impacted you the most and why and if you had a chance to say something to your victim now, what would it be?
Many members of the audience are impacted by my story because of the effects this continuous home invasion had on my children. Apparently, most criminals don’t like it when other criminals mess with children.
It’s been exactly a year since I spoke on the second panel. This time, I found myself less emotional overall and more thoughtful in my words. I’m less consumed with what happened and more focused on the impact.
I realize now, I have an opportunity to convey a message:
Your misguided, thoughtless, selfish actions have devastating effects on multiple lives. Grown men are left jobless, on medication and fighting insurance companies on a daily basis to cover medical expenses as a result of what you did. Young girls are constantly looking over their shoulders now and making plans to move out-of-state before your release from prison for fear of your return. Families who lived quietly and privately on your street are left with anger and confusion and are torn apart. You have compromised our ability to TRUST.
You DO NOT have the right to mess with people’s lives, especially children’s lives and most especially, MINE. It-is-not-Okay.
And, if I can’t tell Brian directly — (there’s a five-year Order of Protection against him for each member of my family while he’s on probation) I’ll tell others like him.
And I did.
This time, I also passed around theses pictures of our 21-year-old neighbor while he was dressed up like a burglar invading our home; the same pictures that were sent via email from the camera we had set up to catch him; the pictures my then eight-year-old daughter saw when the police were buzzing through our house the day he was arrested coming out of it, the ones Brian’s dad just couldn’t look at when I told him he should see what his son looked like when he was creeping around our home, uninvited.
So much has changed in our lives since and as a result of, what happened. While I don’t hold Brian completely responsible, there’s no doubt the fracture of our family is in part, collateral damage resulting from his invasion into our home, disrupting the harmony that once resided there and obliterating the sense of safety we enjoyed for so many years.
“You can’t let an event in your life define who you are. It’s not what happens to you but what you do, when something happens, that becomes part of your character.”
These are my words. I keep them on my About page and often revisit them to remind myself of what I believe to be true; to help me to continue to move forward.
To keep moving forward.
Mom? Did Brian have to fill out one of those questionnaires? Hannah asked.
Yes, I said. I’m sure he did. They all have to.
She paused for a minute, slowly looked up at me and said,
Can you see his?
Can I see his?
The possibility hadn’t occurred to me.
I don’t know.
Why don’t you ask the parole officer if you can? she said.
Heart stop –again.
Could I ask? Would I ask? Did I ask?
I did ask her if I could see his questionnaire.
And even though Brian didn’t respect our privacy two years ago while he repeatedly ransacked our home, our bedrooms, our closets and drawers, I am going to respect his today– somewhat.
I’m not going to say what the parole officer’s response was or whether I did or didn’t get to read Brian’s questionnaire and find out who he thought was affected by his crime and how or what he would say to us if he had the chance, now.
Photo Credit #1: Hope
Photo Credit #3: Trust/Google Images
Photo Credit #2, 4 & #5 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile. Not to be reproduced or reused without express permission.