Two Sisters, Two Brothers - The National Conference on Restorative Justice

Today’s post focuses on the stories of 2 women who spoke at the National Conference on Restorative Justice. Therese and Ann have each lost a brother . . .

THERESE: Therese lost her brother, Steve, to murder in 2003. In my travels last year, I’d had the opportunity to meet Therese and heard her speak about this experience and her subsequent journey of grief and loss. We’ve kept in touch via email since then. At the conference, we reconnected.

In an NPR radio interview with Frank Stasio
and in a breakout session at the conference, Therese shared stories of her continuing journey through loss toward healing.

“I’ve tried to make sense of my brother’s murder, and to make sense of a ‘me’ without him,” she told us. “For a long time, I didn’t know if I would survive Steve’s death.”

Then, “After a year of horrible grief and depression and not knowing who I was any more, trying to figure out life, trying to figure out who to be next, without this person beside me who had so defined who I was, I sat straight up in bed in the middle of the night one night and woke my husband up and said, ‘I’m going to make a film.’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ I think he was just glad that I would have a reason to get out of bed every day.”

Her idea for the film was to tell the story, not just of her brother and his death, but of the man named Karl who killed Steve. She wanted to understand Karl’s life, and what led him down the path to committing murder. She also wanted to meet and talk with him, face to face. South Carolina, where he was incarcerated, didn’t have a process in place for such a meeting. But through the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network, whose director, Veronica, had recently received training in Victim Offender Dialogues, Therese was able to start working toward such a meeting. Hers would be the first adult/violent crime dialogue to take place in South Carolina.

After more than 10 months of intensive preparation – for both Therese and Karl – their face-to-face meeting took place on December 6, 2010.

When she was asked what was said during the face to face meeting with Karl, Therese said, “You know, the most important things that happened in that meeting were in what was NOT said. Karl did not make any excuses about what he had done or try to justify it. He accepted responsibility. And at one point, I broke down and just cried for several minutes. Karl sat quietly through that. It felt like he was taking in my grief, just absorbing it, accepting it. That was so powerful.”

The story of that meeting, all that led up to it, and what’s happened for Therese and her family since will be shared in Therese’s film: The Final Gift.

“Early on in the process of making this film, someone said I should be the director,” Therese explained. “But what I’ve come to realize is that the film has directed me. Doing this has helped to heal me. It’s been one of the most challenging, important things of my life. And I hope that sharing this story through the film will somehow help others.”

“The Final Gift” film is due to be released in Autumn, 2011.

ANN: Ann lost her brother, Willie, to execution in 2006. At another conference session, Ann spoke about her journey through loss toward healing during her brother’s 23 years on death row and his execution.

“We’re from a very small community. Everybody knows everybody. But after my brother was accused of murder, it felt like nobody in that community wanted to know us anymore,” Ann told about 50 of us packed into the conference room. “People in the community, newspaper and TV people, during the trial and in the prison – lots of people – treated me and the rest of my family like we were just as guilty of the murder as they said our brother was. Everything changed – not just for him. For us too.”

The room was completely silent as Ann shared the difficult story of the night of her brother’s execution. Ann was there as a witness, to represent the family. Some of Ann’s family members hadn’t thought Ann would be strong enough to witness her brother’s execution, but she said, “I couldn’t let him do it alone.”

She visited with her brother for a little while just before the execution. “He told me that he had prepared himself and that we weren’t to worry about him, and that he loved us and to be strong,” she told us. “Then before we went in the room, a guard warned me I was not allowed to cry or make any kind of sound, not to shed even one single tear so I wouldn’t upset the victim’s family. It was a tiny little crowded room and we were all in there side by side, all crammed together – me, and the members of the victim’s family. I knew the victim’s family was going to be happy when my brother died. And I had to keep all of my grief and my tears locked up inside.”

Now, five years after her brother’s death, Ann is still trying to heal. She said that sharing her story with groups like this has helped some.

These conference sessions were hosted by two restorative justice organizations: Capital Restorative Justice Project and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. In the next post, I’ll share more about their work.

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: restorative justice death penalty criminal justice

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