Hero.

“Hero” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It applies to Superman, rock stars, and the police, but now it is time to add a new category to that list. We need to add the title of “bystander” – or at least sometimes.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “bystander” means “a chance spectator.” In other words, it is someone who just happens to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, being a bystander requires nothing more than being present; however, there are times that being a bystander can mean so much more.

For example, recently in the Metro Nashville Public School System a teacher was caught with inappropriate sexual material of elementary-aged students on his computer. How? He asked a fellow teacher to help him with a computer problem. This fellow teacher ran across this inappropriate material and reports the material to the authorities – stopping this man from continuing his abusive ways.   It has been reported that he has over 50 videos from the elementary school he taught at and thousands of sexually-explicit images from other sources. 40 girls were identified as victims through the videos, but thanks to this appropriate bystander, this teacher cannot create more.

http://wkrn.com/2016/09/19/metro-teacher-accused-of-secretly-videoing-girls-as-they-changed-clothes/

In a case that received national attention, two graduate students from Stanford University interrupted and reported a rape after riding by on bikes and seeing a man thrusting his hips against his immobile victim. Their confrontation caused the man to run and then be caught. These guys ended a violent assault.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/stanford-university-sexual-assault-former-swimmer-brock-turner-witnesses/

These bystanders are heroes. They acted, not because they wanted to be thanked or honored, but because it was the right thing to do. They understood the consequences of inaction. They realized that they were the ONLY ones with POWER TO STOP the victimization and they did not ignore the weight of this responsibility. There is every possibility that they were anxious, nervous and maybe even second-guessed themselves, but in the end, they knew what was right AND THEY DID IT. Just like Superman.

But, here’s the kicker. These individuals aren’t Superman (or Wonder Woman). These individuals didn’t fall from another planet as alien life forms with supernatural abilities. These individuals are you and they are me. They are people who had the knowledge of what is right when faced with a wrong, and they dug deep to find the courage to act on it. Very much like what we tell children, they stood up to the bully. They thought about others and they decided to treat others the way they would want to be treated. They did not ignore the wrong and they did not pretend to see the injustice. Instead, they found their voice and they changed the world.

 

Written by: Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims

Imagine.

Imagine.

Imagine you are 3. Or 9. Or 16. The age is not the important part.

Imagine that you are in your room or at church or playing your favorite sport or at a sleepover. The place is not the important part.

Imagine you are with your parent, your teacher, your pastor, or your favorite aunt. Now, we are starting to get to the important part.

Imagine you have something to share. Something that is big. Something that is so big that it is almost impossible to say out loud. Imagine that this super big, almost impossible to say thing makes you worry. It makes you think that you are not good enough, that you are to blame. It makes you feel less than and ashamed. Imagine the struggle to stuff it but every time you push it down it makes you feel more and more strangled. And then you remember. You remember that person. That favorite aunt, that pastor, that teacher, that parent that you think, maybe, just maybe, might believe you.

Imagine that you pull up every ounce of courage and arm yourself with every piece of bravery that you have and you take the leap. You tell them that impossibly big thing – haltingly at first, as you struggle for the right words. Imagine telling this even as you wonder: “Will they believe me? Will they care?” You offer just the briefest of hints into what your heart is hiding because you don’t really know, not yet, what this trusted adult is going to do. And so you shield yourself. Because your super big almost impossible to say thing has taught you that you always shield yourself. The world is not as it seems. It is not as safe as your trusted adult tells you. So, you say as little as you can and then…..you wait.

Imagine this wait. Imagine the sweaty palms, the racing heart. Imagine the “what ifs” that are racing through this child’s head. And then imagine you are that trusted adult. You are the one they trusted with their secret but maybe they don’t know quite how to say it. So they call someone you like a name or they use a word that gives you pause but you think “oh, surely not.” Or, maybe they don’t say anything at all because there are no words, not really, for what is happening to them. They only know how to tell you through their actions. Maybe they start acting out or they stop participating in a beloved activity or they suddenly have a need to be perfect at everything.  Or maybe they do have the words and they come tumbling out like a volcano erupting – spitting at first but then the fire flows destroying everything it touches. Maybe this child confesses someone touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable or introducing them to pornography or forcing them to have sex. And you, the trusted adult, want to believe that you misunderstood or that maybe the child misunderstood because the other option, the option that this could be true, is too much to wrap even your adult brain around. And all the while, this child is watching – for your reaction and for your response. However you respond will forever mark this child and their journey. You get one shot at this, so what do you do?

Imagine that this child tells this story to a trusted adult who gets it. This adult knows the importance of telling this child that they believe them. This adult knows the importance of telling this child that they are so sorry they did not know but that they are so very grateful that this child put on their brave and told them because now – now they can help. Imagine if you get to be the adult that reports to the Department of Children’s Services. Now it’s your turn for your palms to be sweaty and your heart to race but you know that this is the right thing. You know that you are the only voice that can protect this child. And without you, this child is back to being alone. Back to feeling less-than, powerless, and unimportant. But you, in how you respond, can begin to give some of these losses back. By telling them that you believe them, you can be the one to let the child know that their experience and life and words have value. By telling them that you are going to do something appropriate about what they told you (it is not appropriate to kill the person who has harmed this child), you are telling this child that they have a right to dignity and that shame should not be theirs to bear. Imagine the courage it takes to be the person who does the right thing. It is an immense amount, but this courage pales in comparison to what this child will experience if the trusted adult doesn’t get it.

Imagine telling someone that does nothing. Or worse yet, tells you that you must have misunderstood or that the person didn’t mean to touch them inappropriately or that they are lying because this accused individual is a beloved authority figure. Imagine acting out or being perfect in front of someone who doesn’t understand what they are seeing. Or worse yet, has an idea that something isn’t right in the child’s life but lets the “what if I am wrong” mantra drown out the child’s cries for help. Imagine the message that adult sends to this sweaty palmed, heart racing child. That adult has just reinforced everything the child already believes – that they are unworthy, unbelievable, and untrustworthy. That adult has struck a blow to this child’s sense of safety, sense of power, sense of deserving. And for some children it will be the last time they speak about it in their childhood and they will become masters of disguise as that super big, almost impossible to say thing becomes a dirty secret that takes root in their very soul.   The roots will spread into the very fertile ground of self-hate and suddenly this child begins making choices that harm them because they believe they don’t deserve something better.

Imagine. One child. One trusted adult. Two choices – to act, to not act. As our kids return to their routines, we need to commit to ourselves and to our children that we will be adults of action. We will not let their fears be realized if the unimaginable happens. We will not ignore their voice or the one in our head. We will gather our courage and we will respond. And if we are unsure, we will ask and then we will do because we are the voice that our children need.

Written by:  Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims

 

Be the Light

We have a problem in our nation. A big one. And it’s dark and it’s ugly.

But, we aren’t talking about it.

Oh sure, we are talking about its symptoms. We are talking about the violence, the vengeance, the hate, and the anger, but we aren’t talking about the REAL problem. Why? Because violence, vengeance, hate, and anger are showy. And active. And they make us feel afraid and uncertain, so for some of us it means we get louder, for others it means we get quieter. But for all of us they leave us feeling powerless and asking the kind of questions that don’t generate a lot of answers. And then the darkness begins to threaten because those kind of questions make us feel like we are losing control and weak. But here’s the secret to all of those negative, soul-quenching emotions, they are just distractions. And until we get to the heart – the true driving force – of the matter, we can continue to expect these emotions to continue to grow.

So, what is the problem? It’s simple yet so incredibly complicated (which is exactly why it gets ignored).

The problem? It’s our hearts. They are broken, and we have not repaired them. Maybe because we know it’s a time consuming process or maybe because we don’t know how or maybe because we think we’ve buried it so far down that nothing can touch it. But this unaddressed brokenness is causing an impressive darkness in our hearts and it is spilling out on others around us.

There is a saying that “hurt people hurt people.” It’s simplistic but incredibly true. Hurt people, who have not done the healing work necessary to move beyond the hurt, are very likely to hurt others. Not necessarily in a criminal way but in an entitled way. And entitlement makes humans dangerous.

Entitlement lets me believe that I am justified to act out when someone else has hurt me. I am allowed to hurt because I have been hurt.

Entitlement lets me believe that when I act out against someone else that it’s not a big deal. I’ve been hurt worse. If they want to know what real pain is, they should try walking in my shoes.

Entitlement lets me believe that I am not really responsible for hurting someone else. I wouldn’t have hurt them if “they” hadn’t hurt me first.

Entitlement lets me believe that my hurtful actions really don’t cause harm.

If we want to get serious about healing our nation, we have to start by healing our hearts. Hearts that are bruised and broken in childhood. Hearts that are worn down by seeing parents hurt each other or by being touched inappropriately by a person of trust or by being told that we aren’t good enough for our parents or peers or because we have been abandoned. Hearts that know how to live in the dark because the light is too exposing.

If we want to get serious about healing our nation, we have to start by healing our hearts. This begins on an individual level when a person begins to take back their life by seeking help for their hurts. NOTHING takes the hurt away. But counseling, self-help books, and getting connected with others with similar stories will help the hurt to be managed. At first the light is intimidating. What if people don’t like what they see? What if I don’t like what I see? But it’s light that allows us to see clearly. It is the light that empowers us to take sure-footed steps on our path to healing, and it is that healing that gives us the push to the address the societal level. If we are really serious about wanting to stop the violence, we need to do a couple of things:

  1. We need to stop placing our hurts, our disappointments, our injustices over everyone else’s. When we have been hurt, we have the right to experience the emotions that come with it, but we don’t have the right to rank it over someone else. If each of us would begin considering others first, we would be the light that chases out the darkness.
  2. We all have a story. And each story is important. Shouting over each other gets us nowhere, but listening – listening will get us everywhere. Listening allows us to hear the pain of another. It is in these tellings, of our stories, that we are humanized. We are no longer groups of people. We are just people. Listening challenges us to view things from a broader scope. We may not move an inch from our position, but we will have gained empathy and compassion for another. Imagine the kind of light empathy shines. And then imagine a world where empathy was the ruling force.
  3. Validation goes a long way in healing hurts. We don’t have to agree with someone’s perceptions to validate their perceptions. Most human beings are reasonable. They just need to be heard, and when they are heard, and their experiences aren’t justified, minimized, blamed, or denied, they will be much more likely to validate and empathize with others – making them the light.

All of this starts with me (and you). So, today will you join me in taking the first step? Ask yourself if your heart could use a little healing and if so, go get it. Don’t know where to start? Contact us at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org for resources. And then, once your heart begins to heal, be the light that brings changes to your world.

Written by:

Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org

Adult Sex Offenders 101

Sex offender. These two words have been in the news a lot recently. Between public bathroom talks, the Stanford Case, and the Vanderbilt Case, the phrase has become a familiar one.

However, familiarity doesn’t automatically translate into understanding. In fact, familiarity may cause us to run the risk of becoming desensitized to what these two words can mean even though they are two words that can change everything.

Understanding sex offenders is a complicated topic; therefore, this blog and the next will look at two general categories of sex offenders: adult and child. Adult sex offenders primarily prey on those 18 years of age and older and child sex offenders target those under the age of 18. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to address them in the comments section or by emailing valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org.

No one wants to think about being raped. The violation and trauma during this act of violence and its aftermath are the stuff that nightmares are made of. However, burying our head in the sand doesn’t fix anything. In fact, burying our head allows us to lower our guard against the very people who would want to take advantage of us. This is unwise.

At their core, adult sex offenders are driven by a need to have power and control over their victims. People mistakenly, but commonly, believe that rapists rape because they need to have sex or because the sexual attraction towards their victim is just too great to resist or because they are drunk or high or a combination of these things. All of these “reasons” are baloney. Rapists rape, or attempt rape or engage in sexual assaults, because their sexual arousal is tied to acts that violate, produce fear, and/or humiliate someone else. In other words, they rape simply because they can.

We would be remiss if we didn’t push the pause button for just a moment. In an effort to reduce our own anxiety over the topic, we (the societal “we”) can often be very quick to claim that rapist’s rape because of their victim. We whisper that if the victim had dressed a different way or had gone a different place or had not been drinking or had the good sense to not be “there” so late or had not “teased” the offender or had better expressed that they didn’t really want “it” then none of this would have happened. There are two really big, glaring issues with this line of reasoning:

  1. Rape is the sex offender’s responsibility. Period. There is only one person, one entity who is making the decision to degrade another sexually and that is the would-be offender.
  2. By not making the offender take responsibility for their choices, we are effectively hijacking their ability to be accountable adults. No accountability = no change. No change = more victims. When we make excuses and justifications for sex offenders, we are essentially saying to them that it is OK for them to make the same choice again.

Types of Adult Rape

Stranger Rape: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 33% of reported rapes are committed by strangers to the victim. Of these rapes, the rapist is motivated by:

      Power which means the assault is premeditated, involves rape fantasies,involves  threats and force to gain control of their victim, and this rapist often experiences deep feelings of inadequacy and insecurities.  For an example of a power rape, click here.

Opportunistic which means the assault happened because the opportunity arose for the offender to rape someone. Maybe an offender’s primary motivation was to burglarize a home, but then the homeowner returns in the middle of burglary and not realizing anyone is in their home, goes in only to then be raped. Or these offenders “make” their opportunities by intoxicating and drugging their victims. For an example of this rape, click here.

      Anger which means the assault is more impulsive but generally includes more physical force than is truly necessary to overpower the victim. In these cases, the victim often experiences injuries throughout their body and the rapist generally employs every avenue – physical, verbal, and emotional – to subdue and gain power over their victim. The actual event may take a long time and involve several different rapes during the course of the interaction. Many of these rapists feel like they are “paying back” for things that have been done to them. For an example of an anger rape, click here.

Sadistic which means the assault is calculated and pre-planned. The rapist often switches between “sweet” and “degrading” acts towards the victim and engages in ritualistic behaviors that may include torture and often results in death. For an example of a sadistic rapist, click here.

 Acquaintance Rape: According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 66% of reported rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

These rapes happen because the offender believes:

1) They are owed something because of who they are or what they did for the victim. They feel entitled.

2) The victim won’t remember it so it’s not a big deal (in this event, they either believe the victim has become so intoxicated on their own or they “help” the victim to this point by drugging them).  They have lost empathy.

For an example of offenders who believed both of these things, click here.

In other words, people rape their friends, intimate partners, acquaintances, and those they just met because they want to. And believe it is their right to. And justify their behavior to their choices by convincing themselves it’s not that big of a deal. And the victim is left to piece together what happened and then reassemble the shattered pieces of their lives. If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be a victim, read this.

If you are a victim of a stranger or acquaintance rape, please know that it is not your fault. You have been forced into a role you never wanted. It is unfair. It is maddening. But you have the strength to overcome it and take control of how the next chapter is written. If you need help, please contact us at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org.

If you are someone who is thinking about raping another person, please understand that you, and only you, are causing great personal devastation to someone who is undeserving. Regardless of your past and what others have done to you, this is not your right. If you need help, please contact providers here.

It is time that we understand this section of our population. Everything from protecting ourselves to the amount of time an offender gets post conviction depends on how well we understand this topic. If we are serious about not wanting to see any more headlines that scream at us about an adult rape, then we have to get serious about knowing this topic and using that knowledge to dictate our decisions.  Join us!

Written by Valerie Craig, Co-Founder, Tennessee Voices for Victims

Sex Offenders, Public Restrooms, and Other Places

You may have noticed there has been some discussion in our country about who should use what public restroom. As a victim advocate, I have been occasionally asked my opinion on the matter, and I am careful to point out that for me, as an individual who has spent her career working with those victimized by others, the threat is about sex offenders. Nothing more. Nothing less. But I would say that sex offenders are a threat if I was talking about sleepovers, Sunday School, or sports. Because as a victim advocate, I know sex offenders are in all of these places…right now. And what’s more, they have been there since these places have existed. We just haven’t been talking about it.

 

And now, when we have the opportunity to have an open dialogue about it, what do we, as a nation, do? We throw around words like “hate,” “tolerance,” and “bigots” when the word we should be using is “education.” Being asked my opinion on the topic has reinforced what I already knew – most people don’t understand sex offender behavior and only the brave will ask – and until we do better on this topic, we can expect to continue to have a nation of walking wounded.

 

Sex offenders have always come from every walk of life. They have always looked for opportunities to take advantage and satisfy their desires at the expense of others. It is my opinion that changing public restroom laws will not increase the amount of sex offenders in our world; however, it has the potential to change their access to victims. This last point is enough encouragement for me, as an advocate, to remind all of us, that we need to be having a consistent, on-going dialogue about how to protect ourselves from all sex offenders, every day – not just in public restrooms but everywhere. No one wants to deal with the aftermath of sexual victimization whether it happens in public or private or to an adult or a child.

 

What do we need to understand about sex offenders?

 

They can be anyone. And by anyone, I mean anyone. They can be male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, old, young, religious, atheist, rich, poor, white, black and anyone in between. In the case of 90% of child sexual abuse victims and 66% of adult victims they know their offenders before any sexual assault takes place. So, the majority of sexual offenses are committed by someone the victim knows. But not all of them.   And not all offenses are committed in private locations. Which means, when we are out in public, regardless of where the “where” is, we need to be aware of this fact. Sex offenders are a real threat but sex offenders have always been a real threat. We just haven’t been acting like it.

 

What do we need to do?

 

We need to understand that the best defense is a better offense. We can legislate things all day long and we will not be able to eliminate our threat from sex offenders. Arguably, some legislation may change access and consequences for sex offenses, but regardless of what lawmakers decide to do, we should always choose to be proactive when it comes to protecting ourselves from sex offenders. Like now. We should be proactive right now.

 

This means we need to educate ourselves on sex offender behaviors. Our next blog will more thoroughly explore this topic, but for now it is enough to know that sex offenders are predatory by nature. Many are opportunistic and are clever at getting away with their deviant behaviors. They do not want to be caught and they figure out ways to blend in.

 

However, we are clever people too. And we can use our cleverness to protect ourselves. It’s like learning to cross a street. I don’t stop crossing streets because a car has the ability to kill me. I learn to cross the street without getting hit by a car. Once I learn how to safely cross, it is still feasible for me to be hit by a car, but my chances of that happening go way down once I understand what to do. This is the same principle.

 

  1. Always be aware of your surroundings. You are at your most vulnerable when you are distracted. Look around you and make sure that others see you are looking around you. Not only is it polite to make eye contact, it also lets people know you are noticing them – regardless of their intentions. Certainly not everyone is a sex offender, but you won’t know which ones are, so being polite by making eye contact and smiling lets everyone know they are being noticed. This is actually a good defense against robberies, kidnappings, and other kinds of crime as well.
  2. Educate, educate, educate. Yourself. Others. Your children. Anyone who will listen to you. Everyone needs to understand that sex offenders are present and decisions involving public restrooms, sleepovers, Sunday School, sports and everything else we do should always be made with this fact in mind.
  3. Respect your 6th sense.  All too often we override our uneasy feelings for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. If you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from the setting. It can be done politely but it should be done. If they refuse to let you leave the setting, be prepared to use your voice…..loudly. Draw attention to yourself. Predators want to get away with their behaviors not get caught at them. And teach your children the same.
  4. Since this discussion is centered around public restrooms, there are a couple of things to note that we should have been doing all along. Many businesses have a family restroom. Use them if they are available. Using them automatically reduces our risk to strangers who want to prey on us or our loved ones. However, family restrooms are not always available which means I, like so many others, then have to deal with the fact that I am not the same gender as all of my children. My oldest son is 8 but he looks like he is 10. It is not comfortable for him, nor is it comfortable for other women for him to accompany me into a women’s restroom so I, after reminding him of all the stranger danger and “your body is private” guidelines, have been known to send him into a men’s restroom with the parting instructions to “yell if you need me – I’ll be right here” as I wait for him on the outside. For both of my oldest children (a boy and a girl), the discussion has started that they need to look for things that are out of place in the restroom – mainly recording devices. I want them to get in the habit of looking up and looking down and looking all around their stall before they begin in the event that anyone has set up a monitoring device. And if they see something amiss, to immediately tell me. These have been ongoing discussions in our home because I know the threat has always been there.

 

Regardless of how laws or policies do or do not change, we must be proactive. Sex offenders are not going away. We just have to get better at understanding them and talking about their behaviors. Our power comes when we understand this topic…together.

Written by:

Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education at Tennessee Voices for Victims

Valerie can be reached at valerie.craig@tnvoicesforvictims.org

Victim Offender Dialogue, Part 4

Part 4:  Victim and Offender – After the Meeting

Two weeks after the dialogue, Viki and I met one final time with the victim and the offender about the impact of the dialogue, giving them enough time to process the experience. We met with Dillon first. He told us that after the dialogue, he said it was difficult to explain, but he felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from him. During the months that we were preparing for the dialogue, Dillon’s grandmother and grandfather passed away. Dillon told us that after the dialogue, he was able to process the grief from losing both of them. He also said that the burning hatred he had for the offender that was always with him, was now gone. Although the hate was gone, he wasn’t at a place that he could say he could offer forgiveness, but Dillon said seeing the offender in person made him realize that the offender was a human not a monster, and said that he believed the offender was genuinely remorseful, and that he was on a positive course of personal action and accountability. Dillon said it mattered to him that his offender had genuine remorse, but still didn’t know how he felt about the idea of the offender ever coming out of prison. Dillon said going through the dialogue process, and the actual face to face meeting was one of the best things he ever did.

When we met with the offender, he also said it felt like a heavy weight was removed from him. He said he was so nervous about meeting Dillon, afraid to face the pain he caused, but he was so glad he did it. He said that seeing Dillon’s raw pain, made his remorse and regret he already had, more pointed. The dialogue with Dillon reinforced his determination to change his life, and if he ever had the opportunity to be back in the free world, he wanted to dedicate his life change to Dillon and his family.

Not every victim of crime would want this kind of experience. But those victims who have participated in victim / offender dialogue in the past have shared similar impacts as Dillon. If you know a victim who may be interested in this process have them contact our office for more details. Verna.wyatt@tnvoicesforvictims.org

Written by:  Verna Wyatt, Co-Founder of Tennessee Voices for Victims

Victim Offender Dialogue, Part 3

Part 3:  The Face to Face Meeting of the Victim and the Offender

On the meeting day inside DeBerry Prison, Dillon and the offender both knew what the discussion “content” would be, but the reality of the actual face to face meeting was nerve-wracking for both parties. Dillon was ready to let his Dad’s killer know how much he hated him, how he wished the offender was dead, and he was anxious to let him know the magnitude of the pain he caused Dillon and his entire family. The offender was ready too. He couldn’t restore the life he took, but he could give the victim answers, he could listen to the victim, and was ready to face the pain he had caused 18 years prior.   Dillon, Viki and I were seated in the meeting room. The offender was brought into the room along with the support person he wanted to be with him during the dialogue. The tension in the room was very noticeable. Dillon said hello to the offender as he sat down in front of Dillon at our table. Dillon was nervously shaking his leg up and down, his fingers were interlocked, his face was red and splotchy. He looked the offender directly in the eyes and said, I’ve heard many versions over the years about the night my Dad was killed. Now I want to hear about what happened from you.

The offender began by telling Dillon about his family background because that was part of the puzzle to how he got to the point of recklessly wielding a gun on August 10, 1996. In many ways their lives were on a parallel path. Both grew up without a father in their life, desperately wanting a father’s support and love. Both grew up with strong, supportive grandmothers who were their “rock”. Both had single mothers who worked hard to provide for the family. But unlike Dillon, the offender allowed his anger, loss and disappointment to take him down a path poor choices and of destruction.

The offender shared his version of the events of the deadly night (as confirmed in the trial transcripts). August 10, 1996, he met up with friends and they were riding around town when they met up with other friends at a fast food restaurant around midnight. He said there was no criminal or malicious intent to hurt anyone, they were just hanging out. He told Dillon he shouldn’t have been out that night. In fact, he hadn’t been out of his house for over a week, because he had been in a state of depression after the death of his grandmother. He said he was so devastated by the news of her death that the week before the murder he hadn’t been eating, he didn’t change his clothes, and he hadn’t showered for a week. He said, I wondered so many times, what would have happened if I just stayed home that night, but I know that regardless, I was on a reckless path that would have eventually ended badly at some point in time. As the offender and his friends were hanging out in the parking lot, there were two men in a pickup truck also parked in the lot looking at them. One of the men was Dillon’s father. After a while, the man who was with Dillon’s Dad came over to them and asked if they had any marijuana to sell. The offender said he told them that they didn’t sell drugs, and they didn’t have any drugs. The man went back to his truck, and the two continued to glare at them. One of the girls with his group of friends, got out, walked over near the truck, faced the men, and flipped them off. Both men jumped out of the truck and were exchanging words with the female, which prompted the offender and his friends to get out of their car to support their female friend. At that point, the man with Dillon’s dad lifted up his shirt to show he had a gun in his belt, so he yelled for everyone to get back in the car, and when they did, Dillon’s Dad kicked the door of their car with his boot. There was a gun on the floor board of their car, so he put the gun out the window that was rolled down, and shot into the air as they were driving off. He said he wasn’t aiming at anyone, just trying to show that they also had a gun and could protect themselves. Later that night when he was home, one of his friends told him they heard on the news that one of the men was shot and killed. He said he just couldn’t believe he had shot someone. He turned himself in the next day.

Dillon did not take his eyes off the offender the entire time he was talking. When he finished sharing his memory of that night, Dillon shouted at him “You took EVERYTHING from me!”   Dillon was trembling, and his face was red. He said “I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to be a man!!” You have NO respect from me – and NO forgiveness. I needed my Dad! And you took him!! Why did you have to be so reckless?”   He said “I’ve hated you my entire life. I’ve fantasized about killing you so many times.” He went on to say “In one stupid action, you made my mom into a single mom. She had to work really hard to support me and my brother. You broke her heart too, and broke the heart of my brother and everyone who loved my Dad!” He went on to say that he grew up longing to have a Dad in his life, and was constantly being made fun of because he didn’t have a Dad. Dillon was rocking back and forth on his seat, and as he put his hands over his eyes, he asked if we could take a break. Viki took the offender and his support person to another private room so Dillon could compose himself. Dillon was crying and shaking, but said he wanted to continue the dialogue. In the other room, the offender broke down. He cried and said, the pain I caused that young man! I don’t deserve to be forgiven!! After both men calmed their nerves, we reconvened for more discussion. The offender told Dillon that he wished he could give his own life in place of his Dad’s. He told Dillon that if he was ever released, he would do anything to help Dillon. He said that he didn’t deserve Dillon’s forgiveness, that he did deserve his anger and hatred. Dillon asked the offender if he remembered the letter his grandmother had written and read after the trial. His response was he remembered it every day, because the letter was one of forgiveness, and sorrow over his life and the pain he had also brought on his own family. He told Dillion, that he just couldn’t fathom anyone expressing such kindness to someone who murdered their loved one. Both Dillon and the offender shared stories about the influences of their grandmothers. The offender said that the pain of not having his own father in his life was a constant reminder to him that he stole Dillon’s father. He shared with Dillon about a non profit organization he had founded while inside, with the help of his family, to support at risk youth, to help them avoid the path to prison. After nearly 4 hours of dialogue, Dillion indicated he was ready to leave. He looked at the offender, and said: “You are not the monster I thought you were all these years.” Everyone deserves forgiveness. I’m not there yet, but maybe someday I will be. I don’t hate you anymore. Tears welled up in the offender’s eyes, and he thanked Dillon for meeting with him. At this point, I went with Dillon so we could process the emotions of the dialogue, and Viki remained with the offender so they could process.

Written by:  Verna Wyatt, Co-Founder of Tennessee Voices for Victims