An Unexpected Beautiful Moment
Here is another review of the manuscript....
This one connects to Candace.
Thank you Suzi - for taking the time to write out your reflections.
First, I would just like to say a few things about Candace and what she meant to me.
Candace imprinted on my soul. Time before there was tragedy, I was one of many kids as you describe, who she engaged, on her own initiative to lead, to play with, to pay attention to and love. When you are a younger girl, winning the attention of an older girl is akin to winning the lottery. There is no greater achievement at that stage of life. Candace accepted this misfit with ease, integrity and without any positioning or arrogance. It was natural to her and she seemed indifferent to our differences.
As an adopted, mixed race kid in the late 70s and 80s, who was racially discriminated against, sometimes violently, moved to different several schools in various countries with an accent; everything I did was about trying to fit in. The weekend we went to camp, the trepidation I had dissipated the instant I was introduced to Candace. Her genuine acceptance of me without a second thought was so off putting that I think I didn’t speak for hours. I just followed her around in wonder. Plus, she had the inside track at camp which involved access to the tuck shop.
Ever after that weekend, she was famous to me. Not as famous as she would become.
It was years later when I would read your books, talk with you and start to put parts of this picture together as an adult. Not sure if you remember one summer Sunday that we met, during our chat, you mentioned a group that you were part of – the parents of murdered children. You mentioned how exclusive this group was. I was aghast, in a way, that there are enough parents going though this tragedy and trauma to form a group. It never occurred to me that there were ‘groups’ of people suffering through this life altering experience. Not one they choose, of course, but one they are chosen to endure.
Life embodies suffering, death and tragedy yet the murder of ones’ child, to me, this has to be a special form of suffering. I have no idea how a parent continues on. With that in mind, there is no one else to better demonstrate the process of forgiveness or restorative justice than the parent of a murdered child.
Cliff’s experience must be profound having been accused of such a horrific crime. I have often thought of how horrible it would to have to identifying your own child’s body, bound, under such conditions. I have to believe that cloud of darkness carries greater density, like a smog, than any one of us could even envision. The role the dark cloud plays in your book is helpful to grasp the gravity of your mission of forgiveness.
I am struck by your bravery. The courageousness to continue on and to find meaning and value in life, to turn this tragedy into a mission, whatever form that takes is moving and powerful. The dry honesty in your book in processing murder, dealing with committees, support groups, Rene, lifers and all the weight of what that entails, is greatly appreciated. It’s valuable to see that this path is not straight, easy or automatic.
It occurs to me, as it has often, that you, Cliff and family have seen hell in a way that none of us understand. We don’t know that evil because we haven’t had to face it or had to fight against it. Yet it lives and breathes.
One of the most moving moments in this book, for me, which you have written about and talked about in the past, was how Cliff could not sculpt his daughters’ bound hands and so, replaced his with hers. What a parent in these circumstances has to endure identifying such a scene; those images would imprint the soul, and every parent would wish to take their child’s place in a heart beat and if it were possible, it might be a mercy. I don’t know.
After all this, you come to the point of forgiveness. It’s such a seemingly simple word with tremendous ramifications. The implication within the word is that there is not punishment for the perpetrator, which I have to admit, was probably a good part of my reticence about it initially. I think my views would be part of how our society views forgiveness, and possibly also restorative justice. I believe we have wrongfully assumed that forgiveness means we abdicate any punishment which doesn’t seem to be accurate. After reading your book, I am not sure forgiveness has anything to do with the consequences for the perpetrator and it doesn’t seem like that is really the point.
Your form of continuously working through forgiveness in action provides a mandate for others to begin a journey of forgiveness. As a journey based on what you have described, I think you achieve a goal, which I am not sure if it was intentionally or not, yet in walking this journey with you in the book, it creates a pathway for others to begin without having to relinquish the need for justice and punishment. These sides of a tragedy and trauma with forgiveness and justice do not become mutually exclusive or sort of a fiat accompli. There is a fear in forgiveness that somehow by forgiving there is a giving up of justice or our sense of what is right. I really think an eye for an eye is much more understandable or rational for us as humans. Forgiveness, I think is counter-intuitive which is what makes your book so important.
Similar to the process of grief, I identify with the anger in the members of the support group; the fear in their path to finding a dawn in the fog of trauma.
Rene along with his story is such an essential and critical theme in your book. I was quite captivated by his career in bank heists; he is the real live legend of movies, really. Yet to find the real truth is much more devastating than what we know at the beginning, and to find in the end, that his story starts as a victim is really heartbreaking. The first time I read this book, when it becomes clear his journey starts as a victim, I had to put the book down and walk away; just the horror of it all. A seven-year-old victim of assault and rape.
Rene speaking of his sexual assault as a child, the violence in his family, and then, in turn how he was violent. It struck me how a child, a victim, becomes accustomed to violence, develops a comfort level with violence, to become an offender. Your book does a tremendous job in how you outlined this path which has never been clearer for me. It’s easy to hear a story like Rene's in the news and theorize how someone becomes a bank robber. Toward the end, I was moved by his bravery in turning his life around as well as to confront the perpetrators in his life. It’s really remarkable what he has done with his life when someone starts with such a significant deficit in the account of life. To read parts of his story in this book were valuable in trying to get my head around forgiveness because my natural instinct is to loathe perpetrators. I think the way you have juxtaposed his story and inter wound it with your own, and the sort of victim against perpetrator which is how most of us would come at these issues, forces us to confront our perceptions of both.
The way you describe this in your book, in my view, is quite brilliant. There is nothing glorifying about the crime or violence. Yet your relationship is a foundational aspect of your book because it really allows the reader to develop some compassion for him and understanding as to why he ended up living a life of crime.
Your book gave me a front row seat to the violence of crime from the perspective of the victim and those who have to deal with the aftermath and the violence of the aftermath. I just don’t think many of us think about how long a road this is – we hear the news and then that’s really it, unless the case is covered by the press, then we receive the facts of what happened but never the impact on the victim or their family.
Without practical, personal experience, it has always been my view that our judicial system does not prefer victims and/or their families over perpetrators the way we ought to as a society. The judicial system should be a reflection of our values as a community, not the other way around. The underlying presumption in our system is that rehabilitation of the perpetrator is possible, feasible and likely without consideration of the victim or their family and the long-lasting consequences of trauma. To me, before I read your book, it was my view that our society and culture has placed an inordinate amount of leverage and preference to the benefit of the offender and through our tax dollars we have spent a disproportionate amount of resources through incarceration on rehabilitation, support services and so forth yet leaving victims to fend for themselves. This is one of my starting points on our judicial system.
The Good Samaritan is an interesting reflection in your book. He aids the victim and nursing him to restored health. His whole focus is the victim. There is little to nothing said of those who beat him. There isn’t a plan to bring them to task, incarcerate them, re-educate them, or any concept of what happens to the band of evil that beat the poor man at the outset. It occurred to me that Candace was the Good Samaritan.
As in that story, as in yours, there is an underlying violence. One of the most compelling aspects of this book, yet heartbreaking, was to observe this reality for you. It’s really hard to comprehend what level of depravity and evil is within a person to murder a 13-year-old, especially in such a cruel way. Not that there is good way; it just never ceases to amaze me why someone wouldn’t stop it or change their mind. You mention that this person becomes almost a member of the family which is hard to hear in a way. I think it must be absolutely true as you are forever linked to this individual. What a brutal way to add a member of the family. The part of when victims talk with their perpetrators and organize ways to manage running into one another. I can’t imagine what that would due to someone. And I hadn’t really thought of it until reading your book. A light went off – but of course that could occur. How horrifying!
Recently witnessing the murder of George Floyd on video had a profound impact on me. That was the first time I saw someone, in real life, be murdered and it was profoundly disturbing to witness. I cannot imagine what it for a family to witness or experience such violence against one of their own. Your book made me really reflect on how lonely this path is for victims and their families. I really wonder what people do if they don’t have a close family or support.
For me, I would say the theme of forgiveness rings more clearly than restorative justice. I don’t think I have a full picture on what restorative justice is exactly or the implications of it. The word ‘restore’ is a challenge for me because I don’t think you can actually restore something to its original state in murder or rape or these kinds of crimes. Maybe you can restore a monetary deficit in a bank heist. But that would presume there were no people involved who experienced the violence of the crime and all that it entails. When I think of Bernie Madoff, how would his victims possibly regain their lives after what he did. And I don’t know how you “erase” what occurred. It’s not as though these crimes are like a glass of milk that you took half of and now you can replace it with more milk. Or replace it with orange juice instead.
I really believe we need to do more for victims. This couldn’t be clearer from your book. As we look at justice and what it means, our resources like tax dollars should be focused first on victims, their needs and their role in gaining justice. We favor perpetrators too much and I think we make it too easy for them to use legal maneuvering in the court system.
Lastly, it did occur to me in reading your book that maybe there isn’t one point of forgiveness. It’s not a change of state of being from unforgiveness to forgiveness, necessarily. Maybe some days one is better at forgiveness than others.
.....I loved your book and would happily recommend it.....
“You couldn't relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole--like the world, or the person you loved.” - Steward O'Nan