A New Normal…

 

Crime victims do not have the label emblazoned on their foreheads, but they might as well once their circle of friends and co-workers know what has occurred. They carry on with the business of life, but how can you?

When the crime and the loss of your loved one first occurs, your entire world has been turned upside down and inside out.  You retreat; you’re numb, in shock and disbelief. You “have an idea” what should occur with the police and the judicial system as you are smart and keep up with current events (or so you think.)

You are either a doer and try to arrange, organize, and  call investigators twice a day for the latest information (that they cannot divulge), all in an attempt to postpone the gut wrenching grief …Or you are condemned to the couch in a fetal position looking for a reason to go on.

Your family members are “all over the place” with their emotions. They want to talk about it, or not at all, they try to seek comfort in their own ways and may resist your attempts to band together in solidarity.  If relationships are strained to begin with, thrusting people into this incomprehensible situation can fuel the fire.  It is the rare family who can put aside their differences and be troopers in the face of violent crime. However, it is possible.  Such complex dynamics remind me of the classic movie “The Big Chill”: (Part 1 of 6)  A bunch of misfit college friends are thrown together over the loss of their friend’s suicide.

After violent crime, your friends and co-workers are supposed to be your anchors, right?  Well, not really!

Co-workers and friends may secretly feel that the family did not take measures to prevent or intercede, that they were somehow partially responsible.

If the case is high-profile with the media, there are ever-present reminders, innuendo, rumor and misinformation.

Knowing that your average adult attention span is fleeting for “normal conversation,” how do you engage with them repeatedly with your tragedy? How can they possibly relate? How can they sympathize? Unless they have been through it, they cannot. You do not know it, but you are a burden to the workings of other’s normalcy! It’s not you! It’s they who are so uncomfortable! It is not your job to make them feel comfortable when you are actively grieving.

One of my favorite sayings for this intersection of life was that after the homicide “the casseroles stopped coming after two weeks.” Yup, two weeks is the average attention span for those who cannot relate!

Therefore, you MUST change-up your friends for those you grieve with and have a common bond with, such as a crime victim’s support group become your true friends, your surrogate family for as long as you need them! However, for some, there is that temptation to take on the victim identity for too long, unable to establish a “new normal.” BEWARE my friends of the pitfalls of grief! The pitfalls  can “eat you up and spit you out for dinner” if you do not have the proper guidance to help you navigate for the long haul.

It is rough terrain indeed! Even thirty plus years down the trail, I am not perfect. I wear the scars of vulnerabilities and some regrets for which I have no control.  Ahhh, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to dance again, “just like at the end of the Big Chill” movie despite the tragedy that has occurred. It is sign of healing, if only for a minute!  Who wants to dance with me?  The Big Chill Dance Scene: 

With that said another aspect of the aftermath of crime whose drum cannot be beaten enough, is the task and importance of the Victim Impact Statement which can, if carefully crafted, change the outcome of sentencing and any former thoughts of prisoner release with the proper assistance.

Contact me if interested! http://donnagore.com/victim-impact-statement-assistance/

Crime Victimization & Victim Impact: Nuts & Bolts and Some “Intangibles”

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Just keeping afloat in 2015, takes incredible fortitude and courage. Seemingly at every turn, we see violence, sadness, corruption, natural disaster, loss of morality, indifference and a general “dumbing down” of standards that used to be impenetrable. When we have such forces as our backdrop for life, our yardstick, how do we possibly deal with our personal devastation in the aftermath of crime? How do we personally “keep afloat” and find a sense of hope? It is the hardest challenge we will ever face!

Who Does a Better Job?

Although we have made great strides with the infrastructure of victim advocacy over the years, the humanity, the compassion and support and the “going the extra mile” often lags behind when it comes to governmental services perpetually faced with financial cuts. In my opinion, it is the grass root non-profit organizations who have figured out how to do more with less and made friends with community partners, and survivors of crime themselves who appear to be better equipped to provide the services most needed.

Nuts & Bolts of Victim Impact Statement:

During the sentencing phase of a trial or board of pardons and parole hearing, a crime victim is metaphorically standing at the crossroads of their “forever after existence.” That person hopefully has given much thought and has decided what is truly important to convey to the court or BPP officials individually or collectively with the assistance of a paid advocate or fellow survivor.  As the surviving victim, you should ask yourself before you even attempt to compose a statement, what should be my primary focus? What do I really want?  A review of possible options is helpful – non-hierarchical)

  • The emotional impact and devastation of my loss;
  • Financial  restitution;
  • Requesting a verbal or written apology from the offender;
  • Having the opportunity to add new  information to the formal record with the potential of altering the length and provisions of sentencing;
  • Using this forum for emotional release;
  • Describing the future legacy of your murdered loved one;
  • Educating judicial officials regarding your unique needs and nuances of the process which were previously overlooked but very important to you;
  • Expressing forgiveness to “a higher power” as a way of self-healing;

Other Considerations:

  • In the State of Connecticut when delivering your victim impact statement, you are not limited regarding the length of time, nor is the content edited in any way, according to our Board of Pardons and Parole website and personal experience.
  • In the State of South Carolina, a videotaped statement cannot exceed five minutes in the case of one victim, ten minutes for multiple victims.
  • (Be sure to check with your state as rules vary from state to state.)
  • Physical Environment – During a court sentencing, you will be facing the judge with the defendant behind you or to the right or left of you as you make your presentation.  Your statement is part of the official court record, or hearing.
  • Restitution and Compensation (From the National Center for Victims of Crime) Increasing the likelihood that restitution will be ordered:  Victims can do two things to increase the likelihood that restitution will be ordered in their case: gather information about their financial loss, and request that restitution be ordered.  To increase the chances that restitution will be ordered, victims should make sure their victim impact statement includes a summary of the out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the crime
  • The difference between restitution and compensation: While restitution is court-ordered payment from a convicted offender, crime victim compensation is a state government program that pays many of the out-of-pocket expenses of victims of violent crime even when there is no arrest or prosecution. Ordinarily, to be eligible for compensation the victim is required to report the offense within a certain amount of time, cooperate in the investigation and prosecution, and file an application within a set time. The expenses covered by compensation vary and are usually set by state law. All compensation programs cover medical expenses, most cover counseling, and very few cover any property loss.
  • In comparison, restitution can only be ordered in cases where someone has been convicted. However, restitution can be ordered in almost any case (although courts may be required to order it only for certain offenses), and can be ordered for a wider variety of losses, including property loss. A victim cannot collect both compensation and restitution for the same losses.
  • Technology- Videoconferencing is a concept that has existed since 1996. The clear leader in this area appears to be the State of Michigan. They began in 2004 with the Department of Corrections bringing the total of videoconferencing sites to 64, including five “telemed” sites. Imagine never having to leave prison grounds for prisoner –immigration hearings, dietician and mental health appointments! This is an up and coming industry of vast proportions.  MDs  can even use electronic stethoscopes to listen to heart and lungs and view x-rays instantly! Viola! This is all in the name of reducing costs and increasing efficiency!
  • Is there a line in the sand that needs to be drawn to say that victims of crime also need these innovative heath care services, particularly the elderly after having suffered their tremendous losses? Indeed!
  • “Intangibles”- meaning loss of productivity, medical care, mental health, use of public safety services, property loss, “tangible losses”, “quality of life” loss .  The problem is, the data available is so old – from the National Institute of Justice – January 1996, and can only be used as a general reference. Basically, 19 years ago…
  • Estimates of monetary values, including lost wages were in the range of $500,000 to $7 million;

What is Pain and Suffering and Quality of life really worth?

  • In 1996, violent crime was 3% of all medical spending and 14% of injury related spending and 10-20% of mental health expenditures in the U.S.
  • At that time, losses per incident of criminal victimization (including attempts) looked like this for fatal crimes including rape and murder-
  • Loss of productivity- $1,000,000;
  • Medical Care /Ambulance- $16,300;
  • Social-Victim Services- 0
  • Mental Health – $4,800;
  • Police & Fire Services – $1,300;
  • Property Loss/Damage – $120.00
  • Murder “Tangible Losses (Subtotal) “$1,030.000
  • “Intangible Quality of Life Losses” $1,910.00;
  • Total = $2,940.000

(Reference for above from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf)

Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service

VIGraphic.001One can assume that for today’s standards, the current cost of living and the escalation of spree and mass murder, these figures may be triple or more per incident. (In my humble opinion)

I do not put much faith in numbers, for they can always be manipulated to serve ones’ point of view, human error is rampant and they do not tell the whole story. I believe that an investment in people and their true life stories illuminate our understanding and pave the way for change far better than what a calculator reveals.

In some cases, the surviving victims may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings. A professional who has experience as a victim of crime, as well as assisting others through trials, can help you put your thoughts into a professionally written statement, and coach you on your delivery in court.

If you are anticipating the task of victim impact statement writing with trepidation, perhaps I can assist.

 

Crime Victimization & Victim Impact: Nuts & Bolts and Some “Intangibles”

Karl Karlsen Establishes a Pattern of Conduct

 

Karl Karlsen

Karl Karlsen

“I took advantage of the opportunity (of a death.)”

A confession to an ex-wife about murdering his son, it appears he is talking in code of some sort.

“I didn’t push the truck, I said,” Karl Karlsen continued. His second wife, Cindy was wearing a wire and capturing his words during “Operation Abigail” in cooperation with law enforcement concerning the death of his son from a former marriage, Levi Karlsen. Cindy feared she would be his next victim, “the next insurance policy.”

“No, I said I had nothing to do with it,  but I said I took advantage of the situation once it happened.”

Police listened to incriminating statements captured on Cindy’s audio recordings, and they brought Karlsen in for questioning. During a 9.5-hour interview, investigators said Karlsen denied killing his son, Levi, 75 times, and that he’s given several explanations for Levi’s death, including that he accidentally knocked the pickup truck off the jack and onto his son, crushing him to death.

Truth is, a new insurance policy for a son in his 20’s, just 17 days prior his death, seemed fishy.

While Karl Karlsen did admit he caused the truck to fall on Levi during the police interrogation, investigators said Karlsen maintained it was an accident, leaving for a funeral after he viewed his son under the truck and found him “four hours later.”

“He did admit that he caused the truck to fall on his son. He did admit that he left his son on the floor dying, but he never admitted that it was a planned, deliberate act,” said Seneca County Lt. Investigator John Cleere.

Levi’s death was initially ruled an accident in 2008. Police said Karlsen collected a $700,000 life insurance payout after the incident and that Levi had signed a handwritten will before his death, leaving everything to his father. But at the time, authorities said they didn’t know about the life insurance policy or the will.

Levi Karlsen

Levi Karlsen

Another Karl Karlsen money trail now leads to a new charge of murder by arson, New Year’s Day 1991.  Karlsen was motivated by insurance money and 18 years separated two deaths. On the trail from California returning to upstate New York, a pattern of conduct was established. See video from ABC news

Karlsen was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years to life for Levi’s death. Twenty three years later, after his first wife died, California law enforcement decided to pay attention to “a track record of mishaps.”

When California investigators looked at the records, there was an August 1986 car fire, a November 2002 barn-horse fire, and then, they wondered, what happened to Karlsen’s first wife?

Christina, Levi’s mother, perished in a house fire on  New Year’s Day 1991. The only possible escape was a boarded up broken window. As the house burned, Karlsen and his three unknowing young children stood outside and watched. A week after the fire he gathered the three children and left California, heading back to New York to be near his family.

As of August 31,2014, under California law, murder for financial gain  qualifies Karlsen for the death penalty if convicted.

Someone who knows how to “work the system and make everything look like an accident” seems to be a common theme more often than not.

How do these monsters slip by virtually undetected? Is it lack of experience on the part of law enforcement? Is it charm or the cunning nature of the killer? Is it a family held hostage by fear and unanswered questions?  I think all of the above!

When someone in the family “grows a conscience,” or decides they may be the next victim, the tables are turned.

Once the judicial process is on the horizon, only then can they breathe a bit easier.

During such a vulnerable time, going through a trial and forced to face the convicted, an experienced advocate with skill and a sense of perspective can help through the process by assisting in customizing a victim impact statement which is used during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Karl Karlsen deserves to be put away forever. May their victim impact statement assist them in doing so!

For those in need of a professional Victim Impact Statement, please feel free to contact me through this website. For more information see my informational page on Victim Impact Statement Assistance.

 

References:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/york-man-prison-murdering-son-charged-wifes-death/story?id=25164857

http://www.fltimes.com/news/article_bc98b99a-30b3-11e4-9162-0019bb2963f4.html

WHERE’S THE HEART IN JOURNALISM FOR THE PLIGHT OF VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME?

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In bygone years, journalists were supposed to stick to the “W’s” – Who, What, Where, When, Why …and How  to present a factual account of a journalistic piece.  However, as a survivor of crime, I now clearly see that reams of paper and ink are devoted to the “who” meaning the perpetrator and the “what” with a more than healthy dose of sensationalism, frequently at the expense of the crime victims. Victims’ families are nearly ignored in this process. The more grisly the better in journalism and viewers flock like a feeding frenzy.  Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

This leaves them as “second class citizens, “out in the cold”, “at the back of the bus” and “a virtual afterthought at best!”  Do journalists really give the public what they want?  Or, is this just rationalization or an excuse for reprehensible behavior in presenting such a skewed image of the people and circumstances involved? I would like to think that the general public, irrespective of their thirst for the immediacy of social media, would “take the high road” if guided.

What is “the high road?” The high road would include: presenting a balanced picture-not to sensationalize; to stick to verified factual information; to not “rush to judgment “ for the sake of beating to the punch  a competing news organization; to humanize the victims above all else, rather than used as a pawn in the ever complex judicial chess game.

The truth is, if journalists did a better job of humanizing the victims, I’m certain there would be positive “spill over effect” to court personnel and the enforcement of crime victims’ constitutional rights!

Enter, Stage Left, my customized victim impact writing service designed for victims “lost in the media swirl” who desperately need a cohesive, objective, experienced voice to convey the heart and soul of their loved one!

A prime example of getting caught in the abyss of the horror of mass homicide without as place to turn is Philip Russo, widower,  former husband of Shelia Russo passionate advocate for the downtrodden, working as the Tribal Administrator on tribal land in Alturas, California (although the mass shooting took place in the tribal office, the building itself does not sit on tribal land). In February, Phil’s entire world “faded to black’.  It all went horribly wrong in an instant!

In order to assist Phil in his quest to the correct the misconceptions of this tragedy, to focus on all victims, including the memory of Shelia, (as opposed to the press the murderer has received,) I submitted selected interview questions to Phil to reflect upon. Readers should keep in mind that his responses reflect a very new and early and very thoughtful perspective

In addition, in more than 30 years of working with crime victims, I have NEVER heard of a more egregious failure of “the system,” a more convoluted, complex, bureaucratic wasteland forced upon this man; lacking in sufficient resources for a crime victim in my life, all due to many circumstances beyond Phil’s control.        It is the proverbial “black hole “you would not wish upon your worst enemy.

This is the very circumstance, which calls for others to step up and step in, including assistance with victim impact, where applicable!

However, on the positive side, I must say at the outset, with people connections, resources and some support, Phil is just beginning to “see the light of day” ever so slowly, with his overwhelming sense of grief the most difficult part of his battle.

I am honored that he chose to participate and offer his voice for the benefit of others.

Questions and Responses for Phil Russo

Thus far, what is the one most difficult lesson you have learned about being a victim of violent crime?    

Personally speaking, it was the realization that all of the programs and people everyone thinks are out there to aid someone in my situation are either nonexistent or were or little to no help to me. I went through all of the traditional sources for victim’s assistance, not one was able to connect me with the help I was seeking.  I was thrown into a quicksand of red tape. Having to jump through hoops to complete paperwork and make phone calls. Dealing with bureaucracy is the last thing you want deal with when you’re experiencing debilitating grief. For me, the ability to speak with people who had experienced losing someone to gun violence, just as I had, was crucial. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with many other survivors, who tell me they all had the same experience. It was only through reaching out on my own that I was able to find people like you, who were able to put me on the right path.    I feel grateful for having come across the people I’ve met through social media. If it weren’t for all friends that I’ve made by striking out on my own for help, I don’t know where I’d be today.  I’m lucky in that whatever it was that possessed me to use social media to reach out has led to meeting so many caring people.  I hate to think about all the other victims who aren’t as lucky as I am in that regard.  On the positive side, one of the enlightening things that I’ve learned is that in times of tragedy, you need to surround yourself with caring supportive people. When Shelia was first killed, I was determined to make it through this on my own.  I realized though, that I was never going to make it alone. I needed help. So I opened my heart and reached out to others and it has made all the difference.

What is the biggest misconception that the media has concerning this horrible crime?  

article-2565664-1BB8DBDF00000578-661_634x826There are a few things. First, regarding Shelia’s role in all of this, Shelia’s job as Tribal Administrator was to implement the decisions made by the tribe.   Shelia had no role in the decision making process for the recall elections or the evictions.  Her job was to merely oversee the proceedings to make sure they were carried out per the tribe’s by laws.

Then, there are some who are of the opinion that this is just a common occurrence with Native American’s on reservations. I believe this is a misconception fueled by prejudice.

Regarding the matter of the embezzlement, it’s hard for me to believe that Cherie Rhoades would kill 4 people and try to wipe out the entire tribe merely over her eviction. There were 19 people in the building that day, and according to testimony by law enforcement, Rhoades made statements that she intended to kill everyone.  Remember, this is woman who was receiving $80,000 a year and living in her house for free, simply for being a tribal member.  She could have simply packed up and moved elsewhere very easily.  Sources put the dollar amount of the embezzlement at $50,000, but that was just according to the 2012 financial audit. The accounting records for the previous years were so poorly kept, that they were going to have to recreate them forensically.  Cherie Rhoades was the chairwoman for 10 years.   I believe that if they dig deeper that they would find a lot more.

Hypothetically speaking, do you feel that if but for multiple victims, victims within the same family and culture as the perpetrator, your wife’s murder would not have “gotten lost”? Why/Why not?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know why this story, as a whole, has gotten very little attention. Even some of the activist groups that I’ve become a member of didn’t even know this shooting occurred.  I’m not sure if it’s because of all the reasons you’ve listed or our extremely remote location. Those all very well could be the reasons. Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure why.  I’m still trying to figure this out.

In your opinion, what can realistically be done to incentivize journalists to begin focusing on crime victims versus the perpetrators?

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of trying to incentivize or the need to humanize them…  People have commented to me that the media is just giving the public what it wants I think that’s a cop out. People are still going to read the stories to learn the facts. I believe that media can still report the news without glorifying the perpetrators and all of the sensationalism.  I can understand why some people are apprehensive about talking to the media. They’re afraid of being taken out of context and exploited and rightly so.  It certainly does go on, but I think that we as victims need to speak out more.  We need to talk about our loved ones.  We need to tell the stories of their lives and all the good things they did so that they are remembered for WHO they were and not by how they were killed.  Remember, for every positive story that we DON’T tell, the media will only publish the negative. I want people to see real cost of this violence, the human factor. I think that honoring the victims is something that everyone can relate to and hopefully, in some way, it may help to bring an end to this violence.  I think that we also need to hold the media accountable for what they publish.  If you see an exploitive news story, call the news director or station manager where the story appears and let them know that it’s insensitive to the victims. It’s just something that needs to be taken on one battle at time. That’s activism 101.

One of the ironies of this case is that your wife’s background was rich in accomplishments with much to be written about as a feature story. What would your feature story include about Shelia? 

The wonderful thing about Sheila is that for all of her accomplishments, she always remained just a humble country girl from Bakersfield. Shelia was one of the most caring, loving, non judgmental and down to earth people that you’d ever meet. She was driven by an innate passion to help others and it was her compassion that was really the key to her success.  Major accomplishments aside, it was all the little things she did in between that made Shelia who she was.  After her death, people that had known Sheila in the past came out in droves to contact me. People I never knew or heard of before.  They shared wonderful stories with me about Shelia had impacted their lives. They told me Shelia was a mentor to them, how Shelia gave them jobs when other people gave up on them. One woman told me how Shelia was able to “work her magic” and save her grandmother’s house from being taken away by the Bureau of Land Management. People were so compelled to reach out to tell me, they sent their cards and letters in care of the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office because they had no other way to reach me.  Even in her free time Shelia took every opportunity to write in public forums about issues that were important to her.  She was very well educated on the issues of the day and not afraid to debate on healthcare and immigration reform, environmental and climate issues, and marriage equality. In true Shelia fashion, always fighting for the underdog.  Not more than a week before she was killed, I asked Shelia the question if what she did for work seemed like a job to her, or if she loved it so much that it didn’t seem like work. She thought for a second and then answered me. She said that she loved what she did so much, that to her, it wasn’t work at all. In fact, she would do it even if she was never paid for it. It was just a way of life for Shelia.  That’s the kind of person Shelia was.Unknown
People have asked me if this tragedy has hardened my heart. The answer is no, and quite frankly just the opposite is true. It’s really caused my heart to open more. I hate to sound cliché, but it does make you realize what is truly important in life and how trivial most the things that conflict us really are.   Sheila already firmly grasped this “big picture” of life, even without suffering the tragedy. The things that meant the most in life to Shelia were her children, her family, friends, her love for nature and animals, and her desire to do good things in her lifetime.  A few years ago, Shelia posted on Facebook “What makes life worth living is working to create the mark that you leave on this world”. The people who have recently come to know Shelia through me all tell me how inspirational her story is. This is the reason why I try so hard to tell her story.  I know that Shelia will continue to inspire and open hearts.  This is the gift that Shelia has given to me.  This is the mark that Shelia has left on this world. This is the Shelia that I want people to know.

Comments and Conclusions:

I am truly touched at the thoughtful, sensitive nature of Phil’s reflections, revelations and truths regarding the circumstances and the character of his wife – even at this early stage in his journey.  There truly is no “right or wrong responses” when we try to access one’s intellect combined with places in the heart… It is only through the process of reaching out to others in times of need that we really begin to understand the richness of life itself. Sheila would have wanted it that way. I feel it! We will attempt to keep you updated on this story. To contact Phil Russo: philip_russo@yahoo.com;

Contact me for information about Victim Impact Statement Services available if you have the need:  Email ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com