Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Strength, Resilience, Justice

 National Crime Victims Rights week begins April 2nd through April 8th.

The Matt Garcia Foundation along with the Matt Garcia Career and College Academy, Artist, Chad Glashoff, the DA's office and state and local leaders will join together on April 4th to unveil a beautiful art piece created by Chad Glashoff. The piece is a tribute to all victims of crime. It represents the Strength, Resilience and Justice for victims and their families.

As I sit here staring at this computer screen I am having a difficult time finding words to use for a short speech regarding National Crime Victims Rights Week. It would be wonderful if crime victims and crime victims families were victims for only one week out of the year.

The fact of the matter is that this is lifelong. The Strength, Resilience and Justice is what a crime victim has to hang onto in order to survive day by day.

Most people don't want to be labeled as a victim, PERIOD. I know I don't. The definition itself feels defeating. So, we stand up with strength that we gather from our loved ones. We are resilient. We will not take NO for an answer. We seek out Justice for ourselves, our families and our fellow human beings.

We become advocates for others facing this overwhelming journey. Our hearts become an open door. We understand the devastation, pain, heartache and frustration that each crime victim and their families will encounter.

What I do know for sure is that the love and support that our family continues to receive has definitely made a positive impact on us. We want to be available to give that back to other crime victims and their families.

There is not any shortcuts through the shock, pain and grief. From my experience thus far, I can say that I have a permanent empty space in my heart that can not be filled or replaced by anything. Trust me I've tried to fill it with outside things for years and it doesn't work.

 At times the pain can overtake me. It doesn't matter where I am, the movies, shopping or at work. The pain will move over me like a huge storm cloud that I am not even aware of until its on top of me.

 I am learning to just kind of sit with it. Allow the pain in and to move through me. It seems to not last as long if I give myself permission to feel it and let it come. This is a skill that I have acquired from watching other moms of murdered children. We help each other live. This is Strength and Resilience!

I have summarized Strength and Resilience. Now, here I am at the Justice part of the theme for National Crime Victims Rights Week. This is bit more difficult for me to talk about.

You see, I believe at the core of my being that the driver of the getaway car is equally responsible for my sons murder. She was never charged with any crime. I will never be able to wrap my mind around this.

I am reminded that I also know of many victims and their families who are faced with not knowing who killed their loved one. Some of these are now cold cases. I do not know what that feels like everyday. My heart aches for each of them.

 The shooter and another accomplice in my son's murder are in prison. For this fact, I am grateful. I will continue to move forward in the knowledge that these two were charged in Matt's murder. I will continue to pray for some semblance of justice for the many victims and their families who's perpetrators and murderers have yet to be brought to justice.

I never mentioned cousin Kathy and her murderer. He is also in prison. He murdered Kathy on April 19, 1999. As a matter of fact, I returned from SoCal just 8 days ago. I'm still processing the entire experience.

 Myself, Kathy's nephew Lloyd and Kathy's sister Doreen  (via conference call) attended Mack West's initial parole hearing. Again, we are grateful that he is in prison and will be there for another 5 years...hopefully.

My experience with justice is clouded. Again we are grateful that some of those responsible for Matt and Kathy's murders are behind bars. But, I also feel that we as a society, have a ways to go.

God, clear our minds and heal our hearts. Guide our thoughts, our feelings, and our perceptions. Give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak.  Amen



Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dance



I just finished watching the movie, Rabbit Hole. It was about a couple who lost their 4 year old son.  His name was Danny. He was chasing after his dog and ran into the street in front of his house. 

A teen aged boy was driving down that street at exactly the same time that Danny was about to run in front of his car. The teen aged young man, named Jason, swerved to miss the dog and ended up hitting and killing little Danny. The story begins 8 months after Danny’s death.

I related to the story in regard to Danny’s mom trying to keep busy. She would do whatever she could to not think. She looked for any kind of distractions to stay out of her head and her heart.

 I too look for ways to distract myself.  I get angry when I start to sense the self-pity moving over me like a dark cloud.  I can’t get away from it no matter what I do. So, I try and sit with it for as long as I can. Feel it, breathe it in and then I try to blow it all out. It never works!

 It’s like a dance that I perform every day. Some days I dance all day and into my dreams. Other days it’s a short dance. But, there is always a dance. I don’t want to dance.

In the movie the distraught mother didn’t want to go to the support group anymore. She thought they talked too much about God. I understand that too. Not that we talk about God at my group. But, because some people want to talk to me about God’s plan. Often times, I just repeat what they say instead of saying “Fuck you”. 

These are my friends, people whom I love and whom truly love me. They honestly want to support me. I don’t want to hurt them with my words. I can be really good at using my words to hurt others. I also don't want them to stop talking to me, afraid that they may say the "wrong" thing.


I believe this is the reason I started writing. I want to write about what is really going on without hurting anyone. It feels safe here. I can choose who gets to read about my thoughts, my feelings and my dance. This is the one thing that belongs to me. No one can shoot my words in the head and kill them. I can protect my words here. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kathy’s murderer

                                                                                   

On March 14th I will board an airplane for a 1 hour flight to SoCal. I will then meet up with a Solano County Deputy District Attorney. We will drive from Burbank to Lancaster Prison to attend the parole hearing for the man who murdered my cousin, Kathy O’Brien.

This is Mack Arthur West’s initial parole hearing. He murdered Kathy on April 19th 1999, nearly 18 years ago. When Kathy’s body was discovered on a rural road in Fairfield, it was not clear what had happened to her. At first, it was thought that she may have been hit by a car and dragged for some time. Her injuries were that severe.

Later, it would be announced that Kathy was stabbed over her entire body more than 50 times. Most of the stab wounds were of her upper torso and face. She also had several stab wounds to her hands. We all knew that Kathy fought very hard to stay alive.

The shock of what had happened to Kathy has never left me. The thoughts of what she went through that night will haunt me forever.

 The horrific and vicious murder of Kathy could only be committed by an insane killer. The physical act of actually stabbing someone over 50 times is something I will never be able to wrap my mind around. Mack Arthur West should never be given the opportunity to walk among us.

The sickening details of Kathy’s death not only shocked us all, her murder devastated our entire family. My aunt and uncle would be unable to attend the 8 long years of hearings and postponements for Kathy’s murderer. The gruesome details would be too much for them to bear.

The murderer continued to play the courtroom at every hearing I attended. I attended all of them except for the ones that I was not notified about. My anger and distrust of the system grew as I watched this crazed lunatic act out in the courtroom. He would yell and scream and even threaten the judge.

The judge had him placed in the glass box where we could still see him but he could not distract the proceedings with his verbal outbursts. The murderer decided to bang on the glass, play with himself, and spit. He wanted to be sure that everyone could see that he was insane. That was his defense. Not guilty by reason of insanity.

I for one did not need to be convinced of his insanity. Anybody that could physically plunge a sharpened object into another, and do it over and over, more than 50 times, is INSANE!
None of this matters in a court of law. Mack Arthur West has rights that cannot be denied. I was infuriated by all of this. It was a circus.

After living this nightmare for eight long years, Mack Arthur West was sentenced to 15 years to life in January of 2007. Kathy’s dad died from cancer before the conclusion of this nightmare.

So much had happened in those long eight years. My kids were not kids anymore. In 2007 my son Matt had ran for and won a seat on the Fairfield city council. He was now the youngest elected official in our city. He was 21 years old. 

Our happiness and pride for him was felt all over our city. 
Matt wanted to make Fairfield a safer place for all of us. His main focus was our young people. He wanted them to be proud of whom they are and to take pride in where they live. He realized that our city was not a place that young people had very many options.

Fairfield no longer had a bowling alley, a skating rink, or a boys and girls club. Matt understood that removing all these places for our young people to socialize was detrimental to our community. He said, when you take away these things, what do you think is going to happen when these kids don’t have anything to do?  There will be trouble.

The young people were excited to have a young person to help speak up for them. Our city was filled with a wonderful sense of community and hope that we had not seen or felt in a long while.

Matt was instrumental in talks regarding a youth center that would soon be opening. He was helpful in getting the city council and the school board to sit down and talk together for the first time in many years. He understood that WE ALL had to work together to bring solutions to the scourge and violence which had been increasing in our city.

Matt was on the city council for 10 months. We received a call on the evening of Sept. 1. 2008. Matt had been shot in the head while visiting a friend outside of her home in a quiet neighborhood. Our lives changed forever that night.

The 8 years spent waiting for justice for Kathy, turned into the most intense devastation, grief and loss I would ever experience.  My son Matt was now gone too. The violence has to stop!

 I will be present at every parole hearing for Kathy’s murderer. I will be at any and all parole hearings for my son Matt’s murderer. Matt’s murderer and Kathy’s murderer also happen to be in the same Lancaster prison. How does that even happen?

At times I scream at God!  I cuss at God!  Why... God? Why did you allow these heinous acts of violence to take place in our family? I am quickly reminded that God didn’t commit these horrendous acts. These were committed by murderers who have no concern for human life. I will be there every step of the way to remind whoever needs reminded. 
I will be there next Tuesday March 14th to remind the parole board of Kathy’s murderer.




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My life advantage

My heart is heavy this morning. My dear friend, Rita will once again, be face to face with the man responsible for her son Chad's murder 24 years ago. Today is his parole hearing. Chad was shot to death.

 My other friend, is the beloved sister of the man who murdered Rita's son. These two women are incredible beings. My heart aches for both of them.

On March 14th, our family will be attending our first parole hearing for the man responsible for my cousin Kathy's murder. He stabbed her to death and tossed her body onto a lonely back road on April 19, 1999.

These are the situations and circumstances of many lives on any given day.
Life and Death! Negative and Positive! Love and Hate!

As crazy as it may seem, I have an advantage. God, it makes me kind of sick to even type this. But, for me, I know that this is true.

I have had the opportunity to live as a "low life".

I came from a single parent home. My dad died when I was a baby. My mom was addicted.
 I was pregnant at 18. I was on welfare. I had another child at 21. Typical right?  I was addicted.
 I was in an abusive relationship. The list goes on and on. I was one of the statistics.
 I was a throw away. I would never amount to anything. At least, that is what was constantly said to me.

But, something happened. I had a moment of clarity. I had a glimpse of something more. I knew, in that small still moment, that this was my chance to do something different.

At 23 years old, I reached out for help. I prayed to a God that I had little to no understanding of.
My life was about to change in ways I never thought possible.

People have helped me all along this journey. I took every opportunity that was presented to me. I was given the tools necessary to become a better mother to my children. I went back to school. I became a productive member of society. I've also learned to give back that which has been so freely given to me.

I am not proud of any of this, but it is why I have an advantage. I have lived the other side. I have harmed people with my behavior and actions.

Today I have the advantage of feeling the effects of forgiveness for myself and forgiving others. I understand the disease of addiction and the dark places it can take one to. I still have a difficult time accepting the fact that Kathy and my son Matthew are gone because of it.

I have a choice today. I can stay angry and bitter because of what has happened. Or, I can use this pain as fuel and do something good with it. I'm living the latter.


God, continue to clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide me where You would have me go. Give me the eye's to see, the ear's to hear, and the words to speak. Amen




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An irreconcilable bond

My husband Raymond and I returned home from Soledad State Prison where we met with Gene Combs. Gene is one of the people who participated in Matt's murder. The meeting was extremely emotional. Hearing about the day and night of September 1, 2008 from one of the accused was heart wrenching. At times the facilitator would have to remind us to breathe.

Gene Combs shared with us the details of what lead up to that horrific and life changing night. I was filled with mixed emotions. In my head I wanted to hate this man for what he had placed in motion. If only he would have gone to the water park to celebrate his youngest sons birthday, as he had planned to do, instead of trying to get drugs, all of our lives would look very different today.

Just as much as I want to hate him I am keenly aware of the disease of addiction. The lives that are shattered every second of each and every day. The disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. Gene needed to get his drugs.

The drugs never came that 1st day of September. What did come was a sequence of events that altered the lives of so many FOREVER! There are no words to fix this. No amount of sorrow or regret will ever bring Matt back to us. All that we have is this moment right here and now.

My dilemma is the constant battle within my head and heart between good & evil. This is the only way I can describe the dialog that runs over and over inside my mind. My head pounds with rage and anger while my heart is breaking with compassion and empathy for a man who perpetuated Matt's murder.

There is no reconciling what has happened. The hearts that have been shattered by loss and grief cannot be put back together with mere words. Matt's murder and the loss of our beloved son, brother, grandson, family member, and friend will never make any sense.

There were no new revelations of what took place that horrific September night. There was not and I'm sure, there never will be "closure".

 I'm grateful that I was given this opportunity to look Gene Combs in his eyes. I'm grateful that he wanted to have this meeting as well. We are bonded in a very sad and tragic way. We both have life sentences!

We all prayed together. We asked Gene Combs to continue doing the work on himself that he has been doing these past few years. We asked that he be a living example to others in his prison community of the life changing and devastating effects that drugs cause. Share with others that every decision we make has a consequence.

I am still processing everything that took place at our meeting. I will continue to move forward and pray for God to clear my mind and heal my heart.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

As I lay here in bed reminiscing about past Thanksgiving holidays my mind is so tired. I'm  not wanting to get ready for my work day. But, I must. I try to shut down the memories of our family all together laughing and sometimes arguing over the silliest of things. I can't stop feeling emotional as I am reminded of several of my friends who will endure their first holiday without their loved ones.

There is no easy way through the grief. Even after 8 years without Matt here, my heart aches like it is the first day without him. Everything I do and all of the memories that are stored in my mind are shattered by heartbreak the more that I reminisce. I have to learn how to allow the thoughts, memories, and feelings to come and move through me. Unfortunately, I have not been able to even come close to mastering this. Will I ever? Probably not! I have several friends whom have been without their children for 20+ years and their pain and heartache remain the same today.

I am truly blessed to have our amazing daughters. We are grateful for all of our wonderful family and friends. I don't want to get so lost in my own grief that I can't recognize the incredible blessings that I have right here and now. This is my constant dilemma. There is a shattered place in my heart that will never mend. I can still find joy and happiness in my life today. Although, there will always be a surging pain, a wound that is so deep it is inexplicable. I'm a totally different person today than I was before September 1, 2008. What does that even mean for me today? I'm not sure?

I will continue to move forward as I have thus far. I will find joy, peace, forgiveness, and love every where that I can. I will continue to be there for my daughters when they need me. I want to support them as they maneuver through their own grief and pain. We are on a journey of our hearts that we never expected nor ever wanted to be on.

God, please
guide us to where you would have us go. Help us to help others by being a support to the worst anguish imaginable. Thank you for filling us with Hope and Love in the midst of tragedy and devastating sadness. Amen.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

What is restorative justice?

Yesterday, I received a call from a woman who works for the Victim-Offender Dialog Program. She will be the facilitator for our family. She will help all of us to navigate our pain and emotions as we go into the prison and meet with one of the men responsible for Matt's murder.

I know that for me, this is a very important part of my healing process. I began this particular piece of my healing journey a couple of years ago. I was asked to share with lifer inmates the catastrophic
impact and devastation that the murder of our Matt has caused myself and our family.

I must say that I was eager to share with these murderers just how their deplorable acts of violence has destroyed so many lives, including their own. I wanted them to feel the anger seething from my soul. I longed for them to see and feel the deep sadness and trauma that they are responsible for.

What I did not anticipate, at all, was the empathy and compassion that I felt for each of them as they shared. While listening intently to these murderers share their crimes and the devastating ripple effects that they continue to realize.  I was not prepared for the remorse that they expressed. The acknowledgement of their responsibility  for these heinous acts of violence shocked me. I was moved by their honesty and deep regret.

I was confused by my feelings and my heart. How can this be happening? The men are killers!

 I can literally hear Matt reminding me that people make terrible mistakes. We have consequences for each and every decision that we make. These men are living with the consequences of their actions.

I am not some saint who can forgive and move on. I am sad, angry, and devastated by the murder of my only son. I still wake up wishing, hoping and praying that it was all a nightmare.

 But, reality hits swiftly,  Matt is gone!  He was shot in the head and died as a result of drugs, alcohol, and violence. All, with no regard for life. Nothing that I say or do can change any of this. So, I am left with....where do I go from here?

I am choosing to try and get some sort of understanding as to why people decide to resort to violence and murder. I know that drugs is a huge part of the reason. I am being lead by something greater than myself, to meet with these men and now to meet with the man involved in Matt's murder.

This man turned himself, the shooter and the driver of the car into the police. Yes, it was nearly two weeks after Matt was killed. I do believe that this man had a moment of clarity and truly realized the enormity of what he and the others had done. No, this admission does not give him a free pass. He is living with the consequences of his horrible decision on Sept. 1, 2008. He has asked to meet with us.

Every day I have to find ways to live with the enormity and consequences of others decisions. I don't get the opportunity to have conversations with my son. I am left here to deal with the confusing internal dialog that happens constantly within my mind and heart.

 I ask God daily for guidance and strength. I believe God is answering my prayer. My job is to remain open to what is being offered.

Many days I want to shut down. I don't want to have to feel this pain in my spirit.  I want to have hope that things and people can be and do better. I know that this is possible. I am one of the examples. I know of thousands more too.

 So, what am I saying? Do I believe that change and a better life can ONLY happen for people whom have not killed another?

The internal conflict that I have is real.  I am clear that only God can heal this. God, is restoring me daily. I have to have faith and believe that God is restoring others, as well. This, to me, is restorative justice.