Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Letters to the Victim

Nearly three quarters of the way through with this semester’s writing workshop at the Homestead Correctional Facility, and we are knee deep in remorse, regret, anger, love, and apologies.

Maybe it is the holidays that remind the ladies of the families they are missing, and also reminds them of the victim’s families who are grieving because of their actions. Maybe it is our encouragement that allows these women to reach into their souls and produce works that hit every nerve and emotion capable in the human body. Or maybe it is the fact that more than half of these folks will never leave the cold interior of the correctional institute – and the other handful of them will get out once they are old and gray.

Whatever the case, the work has been absolutely riveting.

For some, a letter to their victim may mean never even knowing whom the recipient would have been. For example a young woman from Columbia took a deal with a devil, also known as the Columbia mafia, and attempted to transfer cocaine from her home country to the United States. She was stopped in Miami, and her package of white-powder goods was only sniffed not by individual users, but rather, by police dogs. However, this stunning woman with long, flowing, curly black hair – now sprinkled with silver – understands that had her package been received by the dealers here in the States, families would have been ripped apart. Like a bullet, drug addiction memes nearly everyone in its path – addiction tears the life from its users, suicides and murders take place, and public safety is affected. This Columbian inmate, Monica, – who learned English in prison, and speaks and writes the language very well – understands that because of her, the cycle of detrimental drug use in this country would have ensued.

There have been other letters written as well. Some of them, such as a 30-something-year-old’s piece written to a man she killed when her vehicle slammed into his one night on the freeway; she was in Palm Beach for vacation, and was high on substances. She tells Robbie that it has been hard to write the things down that rip her heart up each and every morning that she slips on her prison blues. She thinks of him any time she is afforded a smile, a laugh, or a somber moment. Why? Because he can no longer have these moments. She goes on to say that he was a cool-sounding guy, based on discussions at the trial, and they could have even been friends.

One letter, though, really sticks out.

Jessica was just shy of her 18th birthday when she roused up two friends to rob a boyfriend of her mother. With a gun to his head by the sole male conspirator, Jessica and her female counterpart rummaged through the boyfriend’s home. Stash in stow, two of them left the house, while Jessica stayed back. To the surprise of her friends, shots rang out. That man not only had money, he had raped Jessica when she was a child. She received a life sentence for this retaliation, but it does beg the question: what is one’s mental state if they have been abused, raped, mentally, emotionally, and physically scarred by the hands of an adult? Not only was her life taken from her as a child – when she was raped – she also took a life while she as child – she had not even reached adult age when the murder/robbery took place. She was in pain when that trigger was pulled. She probably hated him, wanted to seek revenge for the string of events that led her to a life of crime – as research has shown that those who are abused as children often abuse themselves and others as they grow up because like a drug, the loathing soothes wounds. Yet, she wrote a letter to her victim. Jessica, who often sits in the workshop slouched and with her head on the desk, asked the man who violated her to forgive her. She said I now realize that the cycle of pain continues if no one is there to end it – she asks him, what abuse did you endure that caused you to abuse me? And, can you forgive me for ending your life, even though you ended mine? Reading this request, it is impossible to not express her bravery – could you make this request if it were you? The Supreme Court documents express “the vendetta” Jessica wished to pursue, and that she had “a personal grudge against him;” however this seems awfully glorified. Is it truly a vendetta if your soul was ripped from you, and if your psyche is forever scarred by the image of a large man climbing on top of you as a child?

While I am in no way condoning murder, one has to wonder where the line in the sand is drawn. At what point does reactions to a childhood rape become first-degree murder?