Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part III

Victim Impact Statement

 

While preparing for my family’s most recent parole hearing over the last four months, I have learned a lot of information regarding fundamental disconnects in providing victim services.

I’d like to think that it is confined to my home state of Connecticut, but I know better, and therein lies the reason for forging new paths for others. Unfortunately, there are always new crime victims around the corner.

There appears to be long-standing, but forgotten, fundamental principles that can be attributed to failures in the criminal justice process. I will summarize these below. Take time to check on the status of these elements in your state, and review as if you were reading a report card for victim services in your state.

Communicate- Collaborate – Don’t Operate in Silos

For illustration purposes, in Connecticut, we have a Constitutional Victim Advocate whose role it is to work with families to solve problems in which their constitutional rights are not being provided, to  review cases in which a family’s constitutional rights were not provided, and to propose remedies and create a record for judicial review.

The Office of Victim Services is the direct service arm charged with providing victim compensation, support and advocacy in many forms, notification, community resources, training and outreach.

The Board of Pardons and Parole has “the mission to facilitate the successful reintegration of suitable offenders into the community and secondarily to take into consideration the rights of victims to be treated with respect and dignity.”  The trouble is, in my state, these entities operate in different branches of government, and therefore do not come together to communicate, collaborate, or join forces as a routine practice for victims.  This can be quite surprising to a new crime victim who does not understand the nature of how state governments frequently operate.

Advertise- Promote Available Resources

We expect that during National Crime Victim Rights Week there may be a special effort to promote services in general to state employees and the public.  However, other advances such as the right to file Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to ascertain information about a perpetrator is not known or exercised in my state until I made a recent request.  In addition, Victim Anonymity, a hard-fought right, was made public once in 2013, but apparently has gone towards obscurity in the past five years.

It was announced in a press release on August 12, 2013 that the Office of Victim Services in Connecticut adopted a policy, along with the Pardon and Parole Board, for “Victim Anonymity” allowing crime victims to participate meaningfully on the record at a parole hearing without revealing their identity.

Victim Anonymity PRESS RELEASE 8 12 13

Be Open to Change  

When you see holes in the process, or no service at all, don’t let them get by with comments such as “That’s the way it’s always been done.” or “I don’t think we can do it.”  Always question why. Offer to assist in making the needed changes and let them know what the benefits are, especially to those who you are asking for help. Maintain a confident, positive attitude no matter what the response. Let them know that you are a team player and you want them on your team.

Think Out of the BoxBE BOLD  

Thinking out of the box is often uncomfortable for government workers who have never been rewarded for imagination. If you are encountering resistance with your assigned advocate, go up the chain of command, to a supervisor, another department, a legislator with power, connections, and, if needed, go to the press once you have an organized plan and message you want the masses to know. Although there are risks involved, there is nothing like picking up the pace of positive change with media coverage.

Think Like a Brand New Victim   

If you are a crime victim, you can remember those initial feelings of panic, helplessness, wanting to hide, or in constant need for information. Your victim service provider should always walk in your shoes with everything they do for victims, with an eye toward – Is this information clear?  Is it enough? How can we do better? How can we account for and anticipate individual needs and differences? Resist one size fits all answers at all costs!

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I

Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part II


DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

  

 

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Victim Impact Statement Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part II

 

Victim Impact Statement

This is a series of articles on the importance of the Victim Impact Statement including tips that I have gathered over the years from my personal experience as a homicide survivor, from others, and from those I have been able to assist in writing this critical document.

Expressing fear for your personal safety and the right to be reasonably protected is one of your State Constitutional rights, currently active in 33 states, under the Federal Statute enacted in October 2004 by the Reagan Administration.

But, what does it really mean to be reasonably protected? According to the Crime Victim’s Act of 2004:

2.11 Release or Detention Pending Sentence or Appeal

If there is an issue whether the defendant may be released pending sentencing or appeal, victims must be notified of the hearing and provided an opportunity to be heard. As noted earlier, section 3771(a)(1) provides that crime victims have the right “to be reasonably protected from the accused.” Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 46, the defendant has the burden of establishing that he or she does not “pose a danger to any other person or to the community.”

An educated guess concerning not posing a danger after many years of incarceration, no matter the number of crimes or how heinous the crimes may have been, might be house arrest, wearing a GPS device, being employed under constant supervision, and probation. However, reality tells us that probation is overburdened, GPS technology fails, and there are not enough staff to adequately monitor prisoners when on the outside.

What are the provisions made for surviving victims who are elderly, medically challenged, or victims who happen to be disabled?  Will the system provide real protection other than the usual bureaucratic responses?

In my personal case, I do not feel confident. I do not feel secure in the knowledge that the person who murdered my father will necessarily leave us in peace.  Rest assured that I will not quit until I know what reasonably protected truly means in practical terms. In the final analysis, the Pardon and Parole Board or the Court’s decision is just another decision in just another workday for most hearing officers, with nothing to differentiate them.

For those with able bodies and minds, I offer our natural resources as an option, if and when personal terror invades.     

The fight or flight response is a physiological response to acute stress when an imminent threat is present, real or perceived, either physically or mentally. This occurs naturally by triggering hormones which prepare your body to stay and deal with the threat effectively or flee from the situation. The manner in which this occurs includes the triggering of chemicals from your adrenal glands resulting in increased heart rate, breathing for increased energy, blood rushing to your brain and extremities and trembling due to muscular tension.  

Whether your brain and body choses flight or fight at the crucial moment to protect, I can’t say.  As for me, I can’t flee effectively, so I’ll have to depend upon my intellect to save me, which is what I have always done.

Within the context of your Victim Impact Statement you should relay your fears, as well as whether your current conditions to be reasonably protected are favorable to the decisions to be made by the court. Express your expectations on what reasonably protected means to you and your family.

For more tips on victim impact statements:

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I


 

DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors, Part I

Victim Impact Statement

This is a series of articles on the importance of the Victim Impact Statement including tips that I have gathered over the years from my personal experience as a homicide survivor, from others, and from those I have been able to assist in writing this critical document.

As a new crime victim, an affiliation that was never imagined or requested, you are thrust into the world of the unknown. If you are fortunate enough to have arrived on this stage of victim impact delivery at a trial sentencing, as opposed to plea deals, you have arrived at the most important point in your journey for justice. Your voice is finally allowed to be counted. The real world of criminal justice is a bitter pill to swallow. Justice is never swift nor fair, especially concerning sentencing.

When you begin to prepare your victim impact statement, you want to convey the journey and the overall toll it has taken from many perspectives; emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, the overview of your current situation. Projecting into the future, express your wishes regarding the disposition of the perpetrator and any changes to the system which negatively impacted and/or re-victimized you or, alternately, your satisfaction with how you were treated.

Familiarizing the Deciding Body with the Victim

The judge or parole hearing officers may have a pre-sentence report, but that report may contain very little information about who your loved one was, the way they lived their life and what they meant to you, as opposed to only being the victim of the crime.

It is imperative that you provide a complete portrayal of your loved one both visually with pictures, and with the words of your Victim Impact Statement, as this may be your only opportunity for several years until the point of your initial court or parole appearance, or until you obtain future opportunity to address the court or parole board.

Talk about who your loved one was beyond the crime; their assets, talents, what they contributed to the family and to others, and their aspirations for the future that were taken away.  You can acknowledge that the victim may have had flaws, as we all do, however, the account should stress their past positive activities.

Watch for more information in future articles of Victim Impact Statement: Tips for Homicide Survivors


DonnaGore-2

If  you need assistance with writing a professional Victim Impact Statement, please refer to the Victim Impact Statement FAQ’s on this site.

To schedule a presentation with me at your future event or  conference please contact:

ImaginePublicity,  Telephone: 843.808.0859  Email:  contact@imaginepublicity.com

Listen Up, Because…. Time’s Up!

 


“And the trouble is, if you don’t risk anything, you risk more” Erika Jong 

This is a true and a somewhat embarrassing story. However, if in the telling this story enlightens others then so be it.

I’ve always been considered a knowledgeable person; book smart, analytical, problem solving and possessing just enough street smarts to know better.  But alas, this was one of the hardest lessons of all, to be played like a fiddle by a master manipulator and not even realize it!  I was no match for this person, henceforth to be called “Madam X.” Madam X had a pattern of leading unsuspecting people on a journey to hell and back.

I should have known better…

I didn’t know at the outset of the relationship that I would once again become a crime victim, but also demonstrate an ability to rise above the pain and abuse to save a perpetrator’s life, whatever that was worth.

It all began when I hosted a Woman’s Sunday Brunch gathering within a major hotel in an elite community in central Connecticut.  One Sunday, a new guest, Madam X, arrived.  She was small in stature, was well scrubbed, freckle faced and appeared too cute in looks and personality for words.  In fact, unbeknownst to me, she didn’t just stroll in, but rode in on her motorcycle.

Madam X was charming and cast her spell towards me during our first meeting. It was almost like a dream.  Someone should have rounded the corner, taken me by the shoulders and said, “Wake up woman, this person is bad news!” but no one did.

Madam X and I became friends, but there was something not quite right about the situation.  I had met others like her in the past that were in a tough spot, living on the edge for awhile until finances improved.  But I should have known that the transient little barn converted apartment was for the wayward and not a charming fixer-upper.

Madam X was down on her luck. She had a job but lived paycheck to paycheck. She was a licensed handyperson, but was working in a hotel catering department.  She was a good cook, skilled at arts and crafts, and voiced goals and aspirations.

One day while sitting on the couch in her ramshackle apartment, after finishing a call to someone, she said to me with warning, “You don’t want to know about my problems,” when I innocently offered her help. I had just rescued her stranded with her bike, needing a ride. I should have walked out the door, but I was blinded. This cute and perky person fed into my care taking nature and knew exactly what she was doing.

Madam X needed a temporary place to stay so I obliged, thinking that it was the right thing to do to help a new friend and that our friendship would grow as a result. She moved into my place with a considerable amount of belongings, taking over my “neat nick condominium” and rearranged her life in my home.

Background

Madam X came from a neighboring state and had two sisters.  Both were successful professionals. She portrayed herself as the black sheep of the family who was always trying to prove herself, always the one who was misunderstood.

What I wasn’t aware of initially was that she had burned many bridges, including her family.  It appeared they were in a state of inertia when I desperately called them the first time she disappeared.  I wasn’t in total denial of her problems, and my former rescues, but I wasn’t helping her to face the music and suffer the consequences for such things as losing her drivers license. Unbeknownst to me, she had a drug problem.

I often drove Madam X to her hotel job, rising at 4 am to arrive at 6 am at a location over the hazardous Avon Mountain.  Rather than be the constant chauffeur, I decided to put her on my auto insurance as a driver because her motorcycle was not always the best means of travel. One fine day, she borrowed my Subaru Forrester, fell asleep at the wheel, landed in a ditch and totaled the car, with only a few scratches to her body.

As time went on, the naiveté on my part remained and so did the loans of a few dollars here and there, accumulating over time. I did record all her expenditures in a book as proof of what she owed.  She liked nice things, and a glass of wine with dinner, which didn’t seem terribly out of place at first, until it became every single night.

I wasn’t thrilled with the situation, but kept the thought that the inconveniences were only temporary and would improve as soon as she got a better paying job.  The inconveniences mounted and the psychological control and lies began, so much so that I wanted out of the relationship altogether.  But, I knew she would not go easily.  She was a “hanger on” whose job it was to charm the world. I was never afraid physically, but I was in a constant state of worry, tired of being manipulated by charm and tired of  beating myself up for the stupidity of being duped.

I was able to purchase a new car to replace the one she wrecked, a 2003 midnight blue Toyota Matrix, but, there was more to come.

One night, while I slept, Madam X got up and borrowed my car keys and stole my new car!  The next morning, the car and Madam X were nowhere to be found.  I learned quickly that drug addicts are good at disappearing and re-appearing.

I had to go to work that morning, but was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell my family.  She said she tried unsuccessfully to arrange for rides from co-workers.  I reported the latest incident to the police immediately. My brand new car was placed on the NCIC-National Crime Information Center’s data base for missing vehicles. Although Madam X had no criminal record, I finally woke up and wanted her arrested for stealing my car.

I had to swallow my pride and notify my family members for transportation and for support.  They also didn’t see Madam X’s addiction, they only knew and expressed that she was one of those people from the wrong side of the tracks, a user. They were truly concerned for my welfare. For the first time, I heard my mother threaten bodily harm, and my sister wanted to throw all her belongings out on the street.

A plethora of emotions were at work in my head; anger, disgust, worry, even a little compassion for this criminal.  What made her do this to me?  I was full of self disappointment for being so easily taken in. Can you imagine how anyone could sink so low as to steal the only transportation available for a single person with a disability?

I just couldn’t get over this and began to look into eviction procedures, a legal morass.  I learned that it was no easy task to evict someone who is not an official renter and without a lease.  Time passed with no word from Madam X, and no sign of the car in almost two weeks.

Then I discovered my ace in the hole. Madam X’s motorcycle was left on the property. After consulting the police, or maybe it was an attorney, I asked a neighbor to sell the motorcycle, and he did, giving me a little bit of sweet revenge.

When Madam X finally showed up, dazed and confused, she was totally dumbfounded and felt betrayed that I would have sold the motorcycle.  No sense of responsibility was taken, nothing about my car, only concern for the motorcycle.

My brand new car was located unscathed, thankfully not stripped,  in a high crime area of Hartford. The interior was a mess with many McDonald’s wrappers and a couple hundred miles on the speedometer.  Upon seeing it, I physically shook and was unable to drive it to the detail shop to have it cleaned.

And, big surprise, Madam X stole the car in exchange for drugs.  As she told it, she had a once a month cocaine habit in addition to  an alcohol addiction. My second surprise was when Madam X’s family turned against me for having her arrested. In truth, I saved her life.

I tried to take the high road and be supportive of her inpatient drug rehabilitation, where she was a model patient. She made me arts and crafts projects and colored pictures as gifts. I was biding my time until the court date.  On the surface, temporary remorse was exhibited by Madam X, and as a compassionate person, I didn’t see the value in sending her to jail if she could be put on the right path.

 

The court date came and I had my opportunity to list all of her despicable behaviors. Madam X said all of the right things to the judge.  The judge was very surprised at my generosity to not send her to jail. Drug rehab, urine tests, probation and a halfway house were part of the plan going forward.

There was a near miss, a potential relapse during this time for Madam X.  The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services policies supposedly interfered with the ability to demonstrate a clean versus a dirty test. However, she called me hysterically telling her story, that she was pushed to the brink of purchasing drugs and at the last minute, she flushed them down the toilet.  I saw an injustice happening in her story and dutifully wrote a letter to the Medical Director.

She didn’t achieve the making amends step of the 12 step program during the time we were together, she never showed an ounce of remorse towards me. Several weeks later, Madam X, a couple of transient friends and her sister arrived with trucks to finally vacate my home. It was a tension filled day.

A few weeks later, the Medical Director of DMHAS responded to my letter on Madam X’s behalf and promised to do staff re-training concerning their policies in the future. As a final loose end, I tried to do the right thing and notify Madam X of the letter and its promise.  Response to the message left at the halfway house – a call from the local police warning me not to harass Madam X!!  I continued on with my life by going to Alanon Meetings and tried to forget.

Moral of This Story

Had I not bothered in the first place with Madam X, the master manipulator, the entire sordid tale would not have happened.

If I had not demonstrated the courage to have Madam X arrested, she would not have had the benefit of drug rehabilitation and the court system trying to set her straight.

I would have retained my first car and all of the money owed, but that is never to be seen again.

In other words, even with all of Madam X’s mess-ups and devaluing of other humans, I saved her life, even if it was against her will, and feel good about that one and only fact!  She was headed to being found in an alley somewhere.

I just recently traded in the same “drug car,” which had about 150,000 miles on the speedometer, and the bad memories vanished with it. As for Madam X, who knows where she is today, hopefully living a cleaner life.