Monday, November 29, 2010

on empathy, even for the bad guys.

There was a case locally over the past couple of weeks that consumed our area and made news nationally.

You may have heard of 20 year old Jenni-lyn Watson who went missing on the morning of Friday November 19th. They found her body in a storage shed at a local park a week later. Hours after, they arrested her 21 year old ex-boyfriend.

I grew up and lived in a few apartments minutes from the neighborhood where Steven Pieper, the man accused of Jenni-lyn's murder lives. It's a very nice, sort of upper middle class neighborhood. I lived in an townhouse minutes from Jenni-lyn's home. I spent many a summer night listening to local bands on the stage right in front of that storage shed. Both my boys played soccer at that park.

Both Jenni-lyn and Steven went to the high school that I graduated from (though they are a decade younger than me).

While the search was on for this young girl, talk often turned to who did it. The police weren't releasing really any information in those regards. It sort of terrified a lot of people to think that the person could live locally.

He did. Does. His family does.

I don't want to be another person just spouting off their opinion on this case. There are enough of those people. And that's the problem.

Everyone (very, very rightfully so) feels sympathy for Jenni-lyn and her family. People, complete strangers, are heartbroken for them. I understand. I am too. I can not begin to imagine the pain and grief and heartache that that family has to go through. You know, you worry about your children when they are gone. At the mall. At a friends. At college. Living on their own You are not supposed to worry about them when they are home with you. That is when they are supposed to be safe. It's a terrifying thought that she was not safe in her own home or safe from someone who was supposed to love her.

But too many people forget that there are two tragedies here. I understand peoples anger. I get it, really I do. It makes sense. Feeling anger and disgust towards the person that did this is a completly valid emotion.

So why don't I feel anger? I don't know. All I feel is a heavy, horrible sadness. There are two families destroyed. Sometimes people forget that there are victims all around.

Maybe I'm too empathetic. I think sometimes that's true. I sensor myself from a lot of news stories because quite honestly, I can't handle them. So maybe the fact is other people simply don't care. Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm the odd one out here.

I can't help but think of this young mans family. Does he have brothers or sisters? How are they supposed to face their classmates or their friends? His parents - my goodness can you imagine? To face your neighbors, your community, to go back to work? If there is one thing that has to be almost equal to losing your child to a violent crime, I think it would have to be being the parent of the person who committed a violent crime.

I think I would be constantly questioning myself. What did I do wrong? Were there warning signs? Could I have stopped it? Is it my fault?

I know there are parents who don't care about their kids. Parents who neglect or abuse their children. But in my rose colored world, when I hear stories like this, one thing I always think about it what that person was like as a child. I imagine his mother loved him and sang him songs and tucked him into bed at night. I imagine his parents cheered at baseball games and took pictures before prom and had family game night.

Maybe not. Maybe the parents were monsters. Maybe he is a monster too. I mean, how else do you take another human beings life?

I don't know.

You worry about your kids in relation to other people: drunk drivers, kidnappers, rapists, murderers, child molesters. Most parents worry about keeping their kids safe from other people. It's a terrifying thought that your child might grow up to be the 'other person'.

Reading comments on other forums is sickening. Again, I get the anger. I'm with ya. But when people say that he (Steven) 'should fry' or when they blame the family . . . it makes me cringe.

He is still someones child. That family is already reeling from what their child did to someone elses child. To have to live with that would be awful enough, but then to have to live with it under the heavy glare of  so many accusing eyes?

Man, I don't know. I guess there's no tactful way to get these thoughts out. I feel like it's somehow wrong to feel empathy all around - yes, even for the 'bad guy'.

The whole story just makes my heart hurt, and makes me want to hold my kids close forever.


~Barb~ said...

Wow. This has to be the most well thought out and wonderfully put blog post I've read in ages. I seem to have that empathy sense along with you...and it tends to be ones like us that get hate mail when we speak our minds on these subjects. I guess that's why I keep to myself on these kinds of things...but I didn't want to this time.

I wanted you to know that you are not the only one that feels this way.

My heart hurts for the family of the girl who's life was lost so young and so very, tragically early. My heart also hurts for the young man who felt there was no other way out for him but to commit this horrendous crime...and for his family who will live with this knowledge and pain for the rest of their lives.

Thank you for being a kindred empathetic soul.

Peace & Love,

♥Cari♥ said...

I feel the same way you do. If it were my own child - I may feel differently, but from where I stand, I feel sorry for that poor family. The family that has to accept the fact that their son may have had it in him to kill someone. I can't even begin to fathom that kind of pain.

gardenofsimple said...

thank you so much barb - for stopping by and taking the time to respond! I almost didn't post this, it felt - I don't know - wrong I guess. I appreciate the feedback! I'm glad to see from you and Cari that I'm not alone in those thoughts!

Marianna said...

I totally agree with you. While I feel little sympathy for the man who killed Jenni-lyn, I do feel for his family.

I have a cousin, a very likeable guy, who has made (and will probably make again) some poor choices by driving drunk. We had a local case recently where someone whose situation is very similiar to his killed a mother and her daughter. The one thing I kept thinking about while reading the news reports was how mixed my emotions would be if that were my aunt's son instead of some stranger. God willing we will never have to face that as a family. We pray every day that he realizes the seriousness of his actions, but I know that if the worst were to happen my aunt would be devestated and not just for her child, but everyone involved.

Earth Mama said...

I totally understand what you are saying here. I too feel I am very empathetic and "forgiving" in judgement and thought. I think about if it were my child, how I would still love them, and be sad with them. You rare such a wonderful mother, and your children are so lucky to have a mom who thinks this way.


Sara said...

You are an empathetic soul. I love that you posted this and so clearly wrote out your thoughts. Mine tend to be a bit convoluted.

What sticks out is when people say "how could he get to that point?" A likeable guy angered enough to commit murder. I wonder what it would be like to have never felt that range of emotion. I've reached a brink where I could see into the abyss and know HOW it could happen. Just a glimpse, but I always remember that moment when I read stories like these.

As for being a parent of a child that commits a crime, I believe for some crimes, parents should always stay by their child's side. There are other crimes where, it is just beyond acceptable and then you have to mourn the loss of your child.

Blaming parents for a child's actions when the child is an adult is a line that has been fed to parents for about 20 years or so now. I'm getting tired of it. Adults are responsible for themselves and continuing to blame the parents is a burden I don't think parents should have to carry.

We think a little different, Crystal. I think it is good. Sometimes you balance my more un-empathic thoughts, by sharing yours.