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.
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 be 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.
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.”
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?
Family 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.
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.”