Six months after the acquittal, I found myself in Ottawa walking down Laurier Avenue to the Lord Elgin Hotel to meet a stranger - a meeting that had been suggested by the organizers of a conference I was attending and had been arranged by them
We met at the Grill 41 Restaurant and Bar, a stone’s throw away from the Rideau Canal, Confederation Park and Parliament Hill. A warm, modern atmosphere that provided the perfect setting for this quiet meeting.
He was sitting by the window when I arrived, already with a cup of coffee – a sweet, kind-looking man. Bookish, I thought, as I slid into the booth.
We were both nervous – being forced to talk to each other this way.
We talked about the ice storm that had moved through the city earlier that week. We talked about the organizer, the arranger of this meeting, as we both ordered muffins – banana and carrot.
Then I started asking questions – it seems to be my role in life.
“When did it happen?”
“Early 80s,” he said.
Then we paused.
“This feels as if I am meeting the mother of my victim – the offences are similar,” he said carefully.
With just a few questions, I realize that he has been following all my blogs, my books, starting with my very first book about Candace.
He had spent 36 years in prison. “I was in deep denial for the first 17,” he explains.
There were some sexual assaults before the murder of a 16-year-old girl. After a small party, she had left with him and then rejected his advances. He strangled her.
“My life had no value so I didn’t think anyone’s life had value. I felt I deserved it. I felt entitled. She was denying me something that was mine.”
He is open about his mental health treatment. He has been diagnosed with sexual disorders, sadism and hebephilia. He is attracted to pubescent and adolescent girls. Borderline personality. “I process things differently – always have ever since age six.”
When he first got out of jail, his social anxiety was acute. “I was scared to get on a full bus of people. I couldn’t even walk down the middle of a sidewalk. I was always on the edge.”
He is now on day parole for two years and has served one year. “I don’t want to kill anyone ever – I don’t want to go back to prison. I am motivated.”
It’s hard to imagine him wanting to kill anyone – he seems so timid, gentle and frail.
“I can’t ever forget maintenance – the weekly meetings. I am building the person I want to be – I like the person I am today.”
He has had a great deal of psychological help - starting with a 12-sessions Victim Impact program that consisted of three parts: accountability, study of ten different crimes, and forgiveness.
He lingers on forgiveness. He needed to forgive his upbringing, himself, and the victims who will not forgive him. He has worked hard to change himself. He says that he has fought hard against being held hostage by their anger.
He says he has read Confronting the Horror, my book – which is worn and tattered with use.
“You know what hit me the most?” he asks.
I shake my head.
“In your book you wrote that when your second daughter became the same age as Candace, you had to move… whether you were ready or not. You moved.”
I smile…. It’s always the little stories that impact others.
I ask him what the hardest step in his choice to change had been. He says it was moving through his denial.
“Denial doesn’t keep the community safe,” he says. “Prevention comes with healing.”
That resonates with me. I worry about the denial.
He says that his one dream is to move into a little bachelor suite – with a bed, and an easy chair of his own. All his life, he has wanted to have his own place so that he could feel safe.
I make the connection – that is why the story of us being forced to move sticks with him.
He continues, “I was what I did. But now I choose to be otherwise. No more victims. No one is disposable,” he says over and over throughout the conversation.
He has been offered a simple job cleaning a church. His eyes sparkle with anticipation. “Oh yes – I just want to give back. I want to pay taxes.”
I smile. I’ve met very few people who want to pay taxes.
“To be a man of character is my wish.”
It is my wish for him as well.
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared. ~J.K. Rowling
If you have been taking note - it's amazing how many times I was faced with the "enemy personified." There was my own imagined shooting of ten child murderers, the Lifers Lounge, the Most Wanted, the King Pin, the accused in the courtroom, the photo on my book shelf. the teen killer in Ottawa - and the $8 million lawsuit filed against the Justice system - just to name a few. Each was an encounter that sent me spinning. Whether imagined, felt or real - it didn't matter. It was a crisis. Forgiveness is a lifetime commitment.