Every day is a reminder that our loved ones are no longer here. They were taken from us by heinous acts of violence. This past week has been another revealing one for me. The more I ask God to give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak, HE does!
The fact that a mom who lost her daughter, her grandson and her son-in-law to murder and then was denied counseling for her remaining grandchildren, (her 8-year-old grandson's cousins) due to lack of funding, is thoroughly insane to me! The funds that are available for counseling services are for immediate family only.
One of the things that happened after she spoke of the lack of services STILL for victims and their families; a woman introduced herself and said they have a trauma recovery group which has funding to offer her grandchildren counseling. WOW! Thank you, God. Thank you, for speaking out and helping not only your grandchildren but many others who will live this horrific nightmare also.
Besides grieving the devastating loss of our loved one/ones to murder, we believe we must help others who come behind us just as those who are living this already have helped us.
The services for victims' and their families are many, but they are still NOT ENOUGH! The perpetrators have most of the rights. The victims and their families are left to even more heartache, through the court proceedings, where many times, WE the victims and family members have very few rights.
I know of many victims families, and I, myself have been witness to not being informed of court dates and appearances or filed motions by the murderer/murderers, over and over again. For me personally, this had happened since 1999, when my cousin Kathy O'Brien was stabbed to death and thrown out of a car on a lonely road like a pile of discarded trash.
The court appearances that I was informed about was like being at a circus. The murderer of Kathy acted out by yelling profanities, threatening the judge several times, screaming and flailing. It was utterly insane to witness. The judge would ask the bailiffs to remove the murderer from the courtroom after calmly asking him to calm down over and over again. It seemed to me that the more the judge tried to talk to him and reason with him the more he would act crazy.
Although, while all of this was happening, we the family members of the victim was not allowed to cry loudly nor make any noises. If we did, we would be promptly removed from the courtroom. I got to witness this behavior countless times for over eight years. Where was Kathy's rights in all of this madness?
Kathy's murderer finally got sixteen years to life in 2007. Yes, eight years after he plunged a sharpened screwdriver into her body over fifty times! Again, where were Kathy's rights?
The fact that many of these same issues happened after my only son, Matthew Terrahl Garcia, was murdered in 2008 was and still is mindboggling! Where were Matt's rights?
Last year I was given the opportunity to appear at Kathy's murderers first parole hearing. The shock and horror of seeing this man's face again after ten years made me sick to my stomach. I felt the rage and anger burn inside of me. My skin was crawling.
He was still acting out, but in a different way than the last times, I had seen him. He came into the parole hearing room in a wheelchair. One of the CO's informed me that this was new. He had not been in a wheelchair until this day. He was incoherent at times, and he objected to what the parole commissioner was saying to him. They reminded him often that he was not in a courtroom and he could not object to what was being said. Their words went unheard. Witnessing these antics AGAIN was devastating AGAIN! These are typical situations that occur for victims and their families due to the rights of the accused. Change is needed!
We again got to be witness to all of the insane acts and unnecessary delays during all the trial proceedings and the many hearings following sentencing for the person who killed Matt. He has rights to several appeals following conviction. It's another circus that victims and their families are subject to.
Our family and countless other families are given a life sentence, and we will never get paroled.
On Friday, April 13th I attended California State prison Solano's "No more Victims" A day of Awareness, Acknowledgement, and Amends ceremony in the Level II gymnasium. This event was presented and attended by men who are mostly serving life sentences.
I have been coming here to CSP for four years now. Today was my second time speaking at their ceremony for National Crime Victims' Rights Week. This day a few other groups were here to talk as well as several of the men serving life sentences for murder.
Every time I come to CSP I feel nervous and a little fearful. It's intimidating to walk through the yard where hundreds of convicted criminals are watching you. I am mindful to stay between the thick red line that the inmates are not allowed to cross. Today, I was walking and talking with one of the other speakers, so I appeared a bit more confident while my insides were twisting and churning.
I felt a sense of calm when I walked in and saw Mr. Ward standing in the auditorium. Mr. Ward is a man in his 70's who has served 37 years for murder.
When I came to speak here for the first time years before, Mr. Ward was the first convicted murderer serving a life sentence to apologize to me for his actions in harming an entire family and loved ones just like mine because of his decision on the day he killed his victim. I didn't know how to respond to his apology except to cry. I had not expected to hear any remorse or apologies from anyone. I was confused by the empathy that I was feeling.
My heart forever shattered, and this man who had also murdered someone's child was standing before me accepting responsibility for the devastation and destruction his actions have caused countless family members and loved ones that will last for a lifetime.
Mr. Ward has donated $10 checks to The Matt Garcia Foundation over the years. It's not the money that touched me but the fact that he was making an effort to be a part of the solution now instead of part of the problem.
Several other men and I recognized one another from my previous visits. They came up to me and shared about how they remembered watching the news when Matt was murdered. Some of them cried as I shared about the phone call on September 1, 2008, which brought our family to our knees and devastated our hearts forever.
I reminded them that every decision we each make every day affects more than just ourselves. The ripple effect of violent crime and murder is far-reaching.
Another group that was there to speak was Project Avery. It's a non-profit organization that helps to improve the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated. The program provides weekly retreats and leadership mentoring programs as well as life skills for youth aged 8-18.
I was so taken aback by the three teenagers who spoke about their parent/parents being incarcerated. They talked about how they felt alone and unable, to tell the truth about where their mother or father is because of shame. They now have a place to go where other young people are dealing with the same issues. These young people are brave and amazing. I was and still am honored to have been there to meet them. The cycle does not have to continue. There is HOPE!
We also listened to several men serving life sentences for their violent crimes. They shared about the harm they will never be able to fix for their victims or their victims family members and loved ones. They talked about what they are doing differently now. How they are dealing with their internal conflicts and childhood issues. I'm grateful that they are now willing to look at themselves although there will always be that part of me that says to myself, "You're too late, our kids are dead."
I will continue to work on myself and allow God to clear my mind and heal my heart. This is a lifelong process. I know that! I'm willing to see things in my life with different lenses. I'm willing to open my heart and my mind to change.
Thank you, God