Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Difficult Decision

Three years ago, my mother and aunt were killed by a drunk driver. I have written about that event, in poetry, prose, and blog. But I have not written much of the man who pushed his accelerator to the floor, rocketed his girlfriend's car down I-91, weaving around traffic, until, fatefully or not, he said "Fuck it," and slammed his vehicle into the rear end of my aunt's Ford Focus.

I use the term, man, loosley. Luis Medina had turned 21 scant days before that fateful night. He had been drinking, he had marijuana in his possession at the time of the incident. (I can't use the word accident, because in my mind, an accident implies a lack of control over events.) Luis was not known as a pillar of his community; he had drug offenses on his record. But he was young, and a new father.

The day after the incident, while my sister and I were reeling, trying to take in the immensity of what had happened, Luis walked out of the hospital. True, he walked with a limp and the inevitability of an arrest warrent, but he was alive and relatively well. In the months following, he would be arrested three times; for drug possession with intent to sell- in a school zone no less, reckless driving and possession of a concealed weapon- a gun, and for two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

I tried to fathom how this young man, who was nearly the same age as my own son, could have such a lack of... humanity. Or did he?

Could Luis' behavior be attributed to the harsher side of nurture versus a horrible inherent nature? It's true that he grew up in the rougher side of Hartford, CT. Perhaps, Luis never had a chance.

There are those, who believe that there is a cycle of behavior, prison, and recidivism in certain inner city neighborhoods that is nearly impossible to escape. This, I can accept, but there are casualties of this tragedy that stain only the hands that steered the car that night.

We went to the sentencing- my sister, her husband and son, myself, and my son- to confront the monster directly; we went to read a statement of loss to the court. I am not sure what we expected. For my son and me, it was a long drive and a longer wait for our turn in court. As a family, we watched others come and go, waiting for thier turns, each party secluded within a bubble of anticipation and apprehension, just as we huddled within our ballon of grief and anger.

The court advocate came and gave us updates; we were waiting for Luis's council to arrive. We ate lunch on our uncomfortable bench by the main door. We talked, we played games on our cell phones, constantly checking on each other-"you ok? Yeah, you?" over and over-as the time crept by. At long last, we filed into the courtroom. I held the paper on which our statement was printed. I had been elected, or coerced, into reading for the court and I shook with a heady cocktail of conflicting emotions and nerves.

Finally, all were present. Luis was escorted into the courtroom, obvious in his blaze orange jumpsuit. He was tall, dark-haired, left-handed, and so damn young. I held onto my anger, thought of my mother and aunt, remembered the words he had supposedly uttered before slamming into them and his apparent lack of remorse after the fact. I approached the bench when instructed. I read our statement, trying to control the quiver in my voice and slow my words for all to hear. I looked at my son, young and grieving, then looked at the criminal, also young. My son, surrounded by his family, Luis alone, except for an arrogant and uncaring public defender; no one, not a mother, sister, or his girlfriend and his child, came to support him.

He read his own statement, professing his remorse, giving us an apology he admitted was inadequate, admitting his guilt, immaturity, selfihness, and stupidity, none of which, he allowed, would make up for our losses. He was surprisingly articulate and seemed sincere. The judge heard us, then read the sentence.

It has been three years since the incident. My sister and I have gone back and forth between wanting Luis to suffer every single day and wanting to help him make his life better or offering aid for his child. We want Luis to pay dearly. We want something good to come from the tragedy.

He is so damn young. He was so selfish. He stole half of our family, destryoyed our lives. It cannot be undone.

Luis is serving a six year sentence and will be eligible for parole soon.

These days, we are trying to decide whether or not to visit Luis before he gets out of prison. My sister has written him and received an apparently heartfelt reply. If we see him, will we believe anything he has to say, will we accept any apology he offers?

I believe in restorative justice, the idea that through forgiveness we can reduce recidivism, improve lives, and, ultimately make the world a better place; it has to start somewhere. I want so badly to hope that Luis can turn his life around and become a productive and positive member of society. It's a long shot-he is a felon with a history of taking the stereotypical inner-city crime career route. He is a cliche of the times. And I don't want him to be.

There are steps in place before we initiate face-to-face contact, designed to assure the advocates and case-workers, that we are emotionally prepared to meet our offender. We cannot expect much and are left with the reality of a situation that holds scant possibility of hope. Is that not another tragedy? One of failure. We cannot dictate the future for Luis or his child. My sister are no more in control of this outcome than we were of a certain Nissan Maxima on the night of August 25, 2007.

It comes down to accepting a harsh reality or striving to change the future against nearly impossible odds. I guess, for me, it comes down to the attempt: if we try and fail, there will be a cost, another needle in this wound. If we try and fail, Luis will be no better off than he is now, having to succeed or fail on his own with the deck so stacked against his redemption. If we try, and we make a difference, however small, to help Luis become the kind of person that would never have committed this crime, who can make a better life for his small family, then...

I think it might be better to hope.

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