Looks Can be Deceiving: Victim Advocacy, A Life’s Mission, but Never Fully Compensated

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Crime Victim Advocates are a strange breed… Typically, it is not a chosen profession.  Rather, they come from the ranks of the survivors of crime. It is a hard row to hoe, seeing the dark side of life, the violence and the pain in the aftermath.

Violent crime sneaks up on “its prey” and shatters life as we know it. We are told in an academic manner that we must traverse through the stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross…one step forward, then three steps back, never on an even keel.  We get stuck along the way ultimately to come out the other side a different person who can help others via their own life transformation.

Some survivors experiencing such a transformation, may be able to put it behind them “in a corner of their mind,” proceeding on a new path. There are those advocates who spring into action in very non-traditional ways.  They feel compelled to spread their message however they can.

Crime victim advocates may be able to find paid work within state or federal government arenas or non-profit organizations as well as some prosecutor’s offices and some police departments. However, frequently such positions are few and far between. Many of these positions are often the most low paying too!

Taken from my Blog The Murder Business… What’s Wrong With this Picture?

Crime Victim Advocates – (Court Based or Non- Profit)

$45, 0000 annually which is 38% lower than the average of all job postings!

Private Investigators (As of May 2009) Average Hourly wage is $22.66; Average annual wage = $47,130; Investigators with one year of experience = $25,602 annually; Investigators with 20+ years of experience. Range = $37,443 to $70,080 annually;

Private Investigators working in the Management, Scientific and Consulting Industries the most well compensated: Average = $90,030 annually;
Private Investigators in the Natural Gas Distribution Industry earn $83,080 annually; Private Investigators in the Computer System Design Industry earn $79,380 annually; Private Investigators in the Telecommunications Industry earn $74,800 annually; The highest paid private investigator employed by a state is Virginia at $$68,420 annually;
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics…

Police Detectives earn a range of $34,402 to $94,171 annually;

Homicide Detectives earn a median salary of $62,110 nationally; In a 2010 Survey of 435 detectives a salary range of $44,613 to $81,796 was reported; Detectives in the Federal System earn an average of $75,390 annually; Detectives in State Government earn an average of $54,940 annually; Detectives in Local Government earn an average of $61,230 annually;

Top Five Highest Paid Cities – Detective Salaries as of an August 2010 Survey) (Includes Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and St. Louis)

Salary Range on Average was $68,200 to 107,304 annually;

Domestic Violence /Intimate Partner Homicide- Director of Non-Profit:

  • Executive Director positions earn an average of $48,155 annually;
  • Program Manager Non– Profit position earns an average of $42,907annually;
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) earns an average of $39,996 annually;
  • Masters of Social Work (MSW) earns an average of $33,384 annually;

Left to their own devices, Advocates work at their passion on a part-time basis, nights and weekends, or they may even give up their paying jobs to pursue their mission IF there is another source of income in the household.  However, most people do not have such an option, especially in these dire economic times.

A majority of Advocates cannot afford the exorbitant costs of life coaches or most publicity and marketing companies. Moreover, many organizations are cutting paid speakers out of their budgets no matter how dynamic or compelling the speaker or message may be.

The realities of being an Advocate frequently include self-promotions, locating bookings for presentations, writing articles and books, (hoping to procure the services of a publisher “who will bite” and share your vision in order to disseminate your vital message and perhaps yield some income).

Case in Point:

Susan Murphy-Milano

Susan Murphy-Milano

Susan Murphy-Milano, a beloved former colleague and intimate partner violence expert, always presented herself –her countenance, style of dress, nails accessories etc. like she “had a million bucks.” In order to be professional, you must look the part, after all. However, reality tells a far different story.

Susan Murphy Milano is in a state of high indignation–a condition she experiences with exasperating frequency. Milano is an advocate for battered women. She’s not a lawyer or a social worker but sort of a guardian angel: she listens to their stories, tells them what their legal options are, hooks them up with shelters and counseling services, coaches them through media interviews and press conferences. For all of her trouble she receives no pay.”

 “Later she confesses, “Friday I was on burnout–I can’t catch up sometimes. I don’t think I got five hours of sleep all last week. . . . I don’t know how long I can keep going like this.” Milano knows that she courts exhaustion by keeping this schedule. A vegetarian, she worries about “keeping my health and mind straight” but smokes a pack a day. “I don’t relax well,” she admits. “I’m a real nervous Nellie.” But she shows no signs of slowing down.” 

 “It seems that no one thinks about how Susan is supposed to live, either. Being a full-time, unpaid advocate has been hard financially. When we first met, in late February, she said rather wistfully, “I’m all on my own. I get paid by writing speeches, doing fund-raising, consulting, writing articles. It’s pretty hand-to-mouth. . . . I keep waiting for someone to come and say, ‘We’ll hire you.'” But none of the agencies seemed interested.”

On our many phones conversations over two years, I would hear Susan crunching on some snack as we talked, with a “creaky cupboard “making noise in the background in her home. I asked her once, “Susan, how well do you live?” Her response, “Not very well, Donna.”

For all the thousands of Advocates out there who continue to forge a path for others selflessly, carry on, but make a Plan B for a steady income…  You deserve it!

Looks Can be Deceiving: Victim Advocacy, A Life’s Mission, but Never Fully Compensated

Birthday Blog: New Horizons- What is Prosperity?

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Another year, another birthday… and it happens to be a “milestone year” chronologically that I don’t want to think about because; I believe I actually think 30 years younger! (And perhaps my good genes give me a tad younger countenance than most people.)    Anyway…last year was the “Crayola Box of Colors,” the year before that was the “Pioneer Woman of the Wild West” and the year before that “Simplicity spells happiness in gift giving.”  So…do I want to change it up to demonstrate to readers that I have “grown?” I have, so there’s no need to make up profound stuff for the sake of “It’s your birthday.” No pressure, I have no one to please, but myself.  That, in fact, is a tall order because I always have had very high expectations of myself, perhaps as a way to compensate for my physical disability (which has nothing to do with my talents and abilities, which took my brain a LONG time to learn!)

My Loves, My Passions, My Frustrations and What’s/Who’s truly important in this life:

I still love the writing… and someday when my time, my money, timing, and talent of friends allows, there will be a book (in progress). For now, I am expanding my horizons with delving into other audiences besides the usual social media!  What I have learned- whether it is on a sticky note, a word document or a classy compilation with fine editing, the written words are the most important thing, as well as the endless combinations and ability to write about what others do not! Perhaps that is a gift – the road less travelled …

Under that category, falls my innovation, my unique, customized  Victim Impact Writing Service which offers a crime victim, who is vulnerable, and traumatized an opportunity to take some of the burden off of their shoulders, to try to walk in their shoes “better than the average bear”, knowing the system from several points of view, my ability  to relate to people no matter what walk of life from years of professional practice in many endeavors, and to translate their feelings and life forced upon them into “new normalcy” with dignity and balance ….to remove the focus on the perpetrator, hopefully to achieve the maximum sentence or continued incarceration.  And…. the good news is that officials in California may consider incorporating this service into their victim compensation funding in some manner! How cool is that?

The Radio, The Radio, The Radio:  

It all began with an offer from Susan Murphy–Milano and Delilah Jones… nearly three years ago with an offer about which I was terrified, but felt I could not refuse! What? ‘A live radio show, weekly, for an hour with no commercials and a “blank canvas?” Are you kidding me? No!   The concept, conceived on a cruise ship with PI, Denny Griffin, and then we were off and sailing!

This venture has  been a tremendous vehicle to accomplish much in terms of zeroing in on the aftermath of crime (again, which no one else focuses on), creating an awareness and educating others to issues not discussed, providing another avenue for writing blogs with embedded podcasts and… most of all making people connections which are long-lasting!

Over time, radio listening habits have changed in the industry which is a real mystery to PR professionals and all radio hosts ….but we at Shattered Lives Radio have consistently kept up the quality. ‘The downside- the human element in having to chase the bookings to get confirmations etc.  However, the “brass ring” is that when we do decide to retire this venture, all of the shows are archived for repeated listening, presenting an impressive historical timeline of human events and a wonderful aftermath of crime library.

A New Home for the Future- 

Unless you have a chronic disability affected by changes in weather, this will seem like Greek to you! However, as a person with spastic cerebral palsy, my body, which I frequently push to the limits, feels as stiff as a board in cold temperatures, compromising my mobility and my usual vast amounts of energy. I knew it would come to this…a major life decision to move to a warm climate. My search began about six years ago…and although I thought my heart was set on the location and friends in San Diego, it was not to be for a few reasons. Rather, I built my network and friends and colleague to the Carolinas and another major cultural shift….. Back and forth back and forth for several years.  I have no one “to assist or grow old with,” so my choices are my own, for good or for bad. However with living minimally, carefully and careful planning, I have found a location in Myrtle Beach that offers comfort and serenity…and the potential for further income. So… take the risk and do it!  It has been very stressful dealing with the differences between the States of Connecticut and South Carolina. However, I am always up for the challenges in order to pave the way for retirement in the future. I will never be a “lounger”, but will enjoy more of life’s offerings beyond the treadmill of work in the future, I promise!

My Frustrations –

I could be lavish in my expectations and say I want “xyz legislation” or changes in policies, programming,  or homicide survivors, the missing, victims of intimate partner violence, human trafficking and on and on… to be accomplished by next year at this time because that is my goal.  BUT, the biggest lesson of all for advocates to learn is that they (we) cannot save the world no matter how hard they (we) try.  Instead, it is a matter of degree!

The pursuit for justice and equality for all will always be illusive.  We cannot stop crime, or grief, or bring the deceased back to life. We can, in our own way, do what we can to assist others and be satisfied.  It is vital to know your limits and stick to them.   As I age, I have learned much from others combined with my own trials.  The following truisms may sound cliché, but they are good barometers just the same. (Keep in mind that I am not the model for all of these truisms….still a work in progress.) Being a survivor of crime sometimes brings emotion and lack of objectivity Having friends who can provide the extra objectivity when needed is invaluable. No one knows it all… no matter how many degrees you hold or experiences you have.   With each passing year, and over 30 years of survivorship, I think, “I’ve seen it all.” But truly, I am always learning and that is the best reward in life!

Try to always be part of a solution versus “flaming the fire of the problem”; Always scale your expectations of others – people, systems, events, for you never know what has occurred before… and keep in mind always that your drive to achieve, your priorities and timelines often don’t match others. It’s truly a miracle that anything gets accomplished in the world of criminal justice!  Setting realistic goals and seeking to respectfully collaborate with others, making them shine, (sometimes at your own expense), will often make things happen quicker.

Know when to push, know when to pull others in, know when to set your boundaries, know when to introduce your “out of the box” idea, know when to be a catalyst, not necessarily in the middle of the change. Give others credit always!  Be positive …and if you can’t be positive, be hopeful that things will turn around.   It is a delicate balance between giving crime victims the information that they need in small doses and yet shield them from the realities they may face in the uncertain world of the judicial process. Perseverance is my middle name. But,   patience is a virtue that I rarely have. It is a necessity in life. I don’t mind others reminding me of this.  I say, “slow and steady” may win the race…but not always!  I would much rather humanize and sensitize the process versus re-create the wheel.

Caring, Burnout and Compassion Fatigue:

I have been there in my professional life – This is a “pitfall” into which all of us can fall if we don’t take care.  If you feel numb or de-sensitized to an issue you used to care so much about, you have not suddenly grown into a meanie – you have evolved. There is ALWAYS something that ignites your fire. You just have to identify it, switch gears and use your energy for that endeavor! I have done this many times!

 Finally, What is Prosperity?

Although I have never been a materialistic or a person of wealth, over the past several years I have seen the stark poverty of Imperial Valley California, and many who struggle in other states – including Connecticut, defined as one of the wealthiest states in the country, and the Carolinas.   What do they have in common? For many, they are happy despite their lack of means for they live within their means and try to create a life that is satisfying to them. They re-define what a good life is beyond material goods.  I have learned much for they are just as giving as this writer, always there to volunteer and help others.  They are good people at their core.  I choose to surround myself by a variety of good people, making new friends, those I can learn from, be intellectually stimulated by, and have an appreciation for new things that I have not yet discovered, while paying it forward in my own ways! That is my personal goal for the coming year!  Turning a milestone year may not be so bad after all!

Ladyjustice …another year older…another year with more curiosity, hopeful for good change wherever we can find it!

 

 

 

The Plight of “the Overlooked Victims” – Families of Perpetrators of Crime 

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You might ask, why write about this topic when crime victims should “save their sympathy for the real victims?”  With age, maturity, compassion and increasing exposure to all kinds of circumstances, I try to take an objective view with each situation and attempt not to be judgmental “based on the headlines alone.”   When researching this topic using a variety of search engines, in actuality, there is very limited information about this subject matter. Sometimes that’s the way I like it, as it may make me a “groundbreaking writer.” However, it also says to me that the cards appear to be stacked against the families of perpetrators.

As one example of what misplaced blame can do, we need only to look at the wrongfully convicted and all of the collateral damage done to others for years, Jonathan Fleming’s parents are also victims.

In the past, I have had to bite my tongue at times in conversations about perpetrators. However, never did I accuse the parents of the perpetrator who murdered my father. I saw a glimpse of his father on the TV monitor in another city when we attended the parole hearing of his son in that impersonal Government building located in Waterbury, CT.  However, I could draw no particular conclusions of this man at the time, other than he was there to support his son, who was a career criminal with two murders “to his credit.”  Was he a beaten man because of it? Undoubtedly! Was it his fault that we were sitting in a hearing room 32 years later without the benefit of my father? I could not say that whatsoever, for I knew absolutely nothing about the senior Mr. Herring. I was far more concerned about my mother who “melted into tears” crying uncontrollably face in hands, after giving her victim impact statement to the hearing officers. (A vision that will be forever burned in my brain!)

I feel strongly that the misdeeds of children, whether they are minor or major, should never be blamed on parents “with a broad brush.”  MAKE PEACE…find it in your heart! There are far too many uncontrollable circumstances in every family situation to live with years of guilt and shame.  Parents do make mistakes, as do their children. Although it can be a very tall order, in my humble opinion, parents should sincerely apologize to their children for major misdeeds only, and move on from there, demonstrating their love and commitment in new ways. The guilt is never worth the trouble that weighs upon your health and your soul!  We are all human after all and we can never “turn back the clock.”  Their children need to do the same.

On the other hand, can murder be forgivable? Not in my opinion… but I am not “religious enough” to buy into that whole concept. I say, give punishment to the wrongdoer who should own it… and leave the others in the family alone, for we never can know what has occurred before, nor can we know what burdens they are carrying.

Below are some of the stereotypes we typically hear about perpetrators and their families:   (Which ones do you believe holds true?)

1) His/her parent was never around when he-she was growing up;

2) His/her parent was an alcoholic /drug addict, so what do you expect?

3) His/her parent grew up poor and didn’t have a proper upbringing;

4) His/her parent did not have an education and “grew up on the streets”

5) His/ her parent did not have any good role models;

6) His/her parent became pregnant very young and was never prepared to be a parent;

7) His/her parent could never hold a job, so what do you expect?

8) He/she had an undiagnosed medical problem, with no health insurance that went untreated, so what do you expect?

9) His/her parent-grandparent spent time in prison, so what do you expect? (Listen to past radio show with Marilyn Gambrell)

10) His/her family grew up on welfare abusing the system, so what do you expect?

11) His brothers/sisters were also in trouble with the law, so what do you expect?

12) His/her parents were “crazy,” had guns in the home, so what do you expect?

Examples of Reaching Across the Defense Table Few And Far Between:

Audrey Mabrey, from Tampa, Florida is a SURVIVOR of intimate partner violence. She was a featured speaker during National Crime Victim’s Right’s Week in 2012.

Mabry’s estranged husband attacked her with a hammer, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire in 2009.  He was sentenced to life in prison.

She made the conscious decision become a survivor versus a victim.

Audrey put her grief, anger and physical pain aside to say: “The families of the perpetrators also can be victims, she said, and they also need support.  Mabrey’s brother was convicted of double homicide in Texas and has been on death row for 13 years, she said.

Audrey commented, “Their mother could have used the same support I received. It’d be great, if Hillsborough could get funding for additional counselors. It can be extremely devastating for both sides,” she said.

In 2008, Anna Carolina wrote the following about how she and her family were treated after a family member was incarcerated:

“….You are left shunned and isolated as if you are in your own prison cell. After you have endured the arrest; news coverage; trial and the consequent incarceration, you are lucky you have any of your family and old friends. Regardless of their guilt or innocence the presumption of innocence is never acknowledged. The victim’s rights groups rally around the victim and everyone lends their support and comfort. While you are alone, confused, scared, suffering and watching your world fall apart.”

DOES ANYONE CARE about the voices never heard?

child-17387_640Family members of the perpetrator cling together, praying, hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel.  They are heartbroken by the family members that never stood behind them. They  have forgotten their loved one. They are hurt by society that looks down on families of inmates.  They are destroyed by all the negative press and publicity. They are let down by the people they thought were their friends. They are sold out by a system that they thought was JUST. They trusted in the system to do what was JUST. You wish you could turn back time and hold that baby boy in your arms again!

How many families are there hurting as is my family? How many families are forgotten by society? I never knew about this hurt until I was launched into the internet. I thought we were all alone. I felt all alone. The pain associated with justice and prison leaves a devastating mark. Whether the person in prison is innocent or not, these families should receive the love and comfort as anyone else suffering such a loss. It is a great loss to that family and their loved ones. Their lives will never be the same; There are over two million of us in this country. We may not have the support of society, but we can support each other.

In February 2008, Cassandra Wells whose family member was also incarcerated stated, in part:

“Through this process we have discovered there is not much support for families in crisis when they are the families of perpetrators of crime. There are fabulous support programs for victims of crime and their families as there should be, but the other innocent victims are not catered for and there is a need for this hole to be filled….”

Society deems that the offender, having committed the crime is no longer entitled to family and we the family of the perpetrator is often viewed as strange if we stay together or deserve no support as we are just as bad as the person who committed the crime.

This socially unacceptable reason for family separation compounds the grief process for all involved, especially the innocent children. They often do not understand what their parent has done. They ask:  Why they did it? What did they do to make their parent commit the crime? Are they going to turn out the same as their parent?  Many are embarrassed to share their pain at school in fear of being bullied or isolated and many do not want to add to the caring parent’s pain, so keep emotions close to themselves. This may then result in acting out behaviors or reclusive behaviors all because a family is not able to access the family support required to deal with such a situation.

In order to break family cycles of criminal behavior, society needs to not only invest in victim support programs but also in families of perpetrators support programs so that as a society we can start to see a decline in the statistics.”

Conclusion:

It appears from the “lack of ink” and the lack of resources set aside regarding support for perpetrators’ families as victims, that we have become very myopic in the way we deliver services to victims. Will it ever change such that there is more of a balance?  Not unless “guilt by association” is erased from the minds of an unenlightened public.

 

“The individual is capable of both great compassion and great indifference. He has it within his means to nourish the former and outgrow the latter.”
Norman Cousins

The Plight of “the Overlooked Victims” – Families of Perpetrators of Crime

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