Justice and government used to never coexist peacefully in my vocabulary. They were separate; one had to broken to achieve the other. But these past few days, I saw the glimpse of the America I hope for.
When I heard about our trip to watch the sentencing of the man who organized our family’s kidnapping 15 years ago, all I thought was, “FREE!” haha .. when I was in high school, we were subpoenaed to Washington DC to testify to a grand jury and everything was paid for. As an unemployed adventure and travel junkie, my mind was focused on the free flight and the chance to go to the east coast during the winter. I easily threw myself in preparing for the weather and shopping for just the right boots, gloves, hats, etc . paying no mind to friends questions… “you getting ready for the actual sentencing?” my response: “ummm…I bought these hellla cute boots tho!!”
The running theme of our trip was FREEdom… haha Jill and her friends like to put FR in front of everything they get that’s free .. FREE RIBS ? FRIBS ! FREE PIZZA ? FRIZZA ! FREE TEA … uhhh….FREA? haha so in DC we def had our share of …
It was amazing and definite fit with this season’s theme of compensation. But, more seriously, we had an overflow of a transformative freedom.
The day before the case we met with the team who have been working on our case since day one .. the prosecutors, the FBI agents, the victim advocates, even the attorney general came to stop by and talk to us about how monumental this case was. We spoke about what was at stake, what our presence meant to the sentencing, about what the defense was going to say. As I am a person known for running and numbing myself to trauma, I was head first in my childhood nightmare. To make matters more interesting, we met with the other families who were kidnapped. Separated by confusion, pain, and weariness – we hadn’t seen each other since the kidnapping.
They were going to show videos from the kidnapping. I had never seen these clips and instantly, I was transported into a memory that I have tried endlessly to simplify in my head & to people, for my own healing.
There is a clip of me, wearing oversized clothes and playing with one of the kids. I am not smiling; I am doing the motions pretending that life is regular. Pretending that this is normal. Pretending that I am not afraid. I remember constantly telling myself not to cry. They threatened our tears with bolo knives – maybe that’s why I don’t really cry about it anymore. I remember telling myself to make the other kids comfortable. I remember telling myself to try to be okay so they would not know my fear. So they would not suspect the child within caving inside me.
Another clip, of the soldiers playing with their guns. One by one, I looked at each face, and recognized each one. These men, quite literally, have been the men of my nightmares. Ever since I was a child I have had constant nightmares of being attacked and kidnapped. I never recognized the men in my dreams until I saw that video. There were tears, fists, crying in my mother’s arms. This did happen. It was ..is ..will forever be .. something serious. I have run away and coped to find success, all these years easing the pain by speaking about it frequently. By achieving all that I could. By running to a God who thankfully, has healed me so much more than I could imagine.
As we sat there debriefing a moment I thought would never come, it came to me.
At first, rain drops. Slow staccato making my eyelids surprisingly blink. The attorney general? They’re going to show these videos? Its rare they catch these guys. I will see him tomorrow. Who are these other victims sitting across from me. Then a steady rain. Still light but consistent. He will be in shackles. There will be water and tissue for us. The defense is going to say it wasn’t terrorism. You will have to speak to help him get the right sentencing. Then the down pour. I will be 3 feet away from him. I am a victim of a violent crime. This is not over. He might receive a life sentence, in a super max prison, in which he will spend 23 hours in isolation. Then the dam broke. It’s washing over me in waves. Choking me. Making me float. Surrounding me. Confusing me.
Some of the people kidnapped with us still live in Mindanao.
His son is still part of the Abu Sayaff.
“there is no closure for these types of things.” –an fbi agent
its endless, it will be endless.
At the end of the day I had exhausted all peaces of my heart, soul, and mind. I had walked completely in and through a memory that has spawned a 15 year long case. I ended the day with writing my victim impact statement. Another complicated situation. Within an allotted 10 minutes, I had to say everything I’ve stored in prayer and mind to the man who orchestrated the death of my innocence. I had to make sure the judge knew the consequences. I wanted Haipe to know I was an educated grown woman who had forgiven him but hated him. I had to make sure I could read it without trembling and suddenly lunging towards him. I had to make sure my words were clear, precise, and moving. It came to me slowly, piece by piece, taken from years of processing. Then it was done. Possibly the most important thing I would ever write in my life.