In a room inside a government building in Waterbury, CT, members of my family and I once again faced the man responsible for the deaths of my mother and aunt. We sat on a side of the room, perpendicular to the long table where the three members of the parole board sat. At the front of the room a large flat-screen TV held the image of the inmate. We could see him, but he could only hear us.
I know emotions were high for my sister, my niece, and my brother-in-law. For myself, I held on to the numbness that had steadily grown inside me since that awful morning of early-morning knocking at my door. I had wanted to come. I felt it was important. But I no longer knew why. Nothing said or done on this day would change anything. Though I often joke about them- my tough, sarcastic, driven mother and my crazy, hoarder of an aunt- there remains a deep hole full of "what-ifs" and longing that can never be healed.
I should still be angry. But I am not. I am numb.
I watched the screen and waited, witholding my judgement, holding on to the only scant scrap of hope I could imagine from this scenario. Was he truly sorry? Had prison changed this young man for the better? Can you look at an image on a television screen, listen to a voice, see into the soul of another human being and ome away with the assurance that all this loss was not for nought? No, but that was the fantasy I held to. I wanted a crystal ball.
It had been five years and I noted the changes.
He sat patiently, his hands folded against the front of his beige jumpsuit. His dark hair was cropped close, his goatee well-trimmed; it was easy to tell he had added muscle to his tall frame. He had aged. I waited to see if he had matured.
His daughter was now seven.
The parole chairwoman called the session to order. She listed all the things he'd done while in prison: he'd enrolled in drug and alcohol counseling, taken college courses. On paper, he was on the road to rehabilitation. He had jobs lined up for after release and he planned to live with his parents.
He spoke about what he'd done and what he'd learned. The board asked questions. He answered them with a quiet, humble voice.
In turn, my sister read a statement she had prepared, citing all the damage done to our family, letting him know of our continued pain, but also of our hope that he could find his way to a better life, learn to be a better father, and a productive, not destructive member of society.
My niece read an essay she had composed shortly after the Incident and followed it up with how that resonated now. She articulated her sadness, her anger, and her belief that his sentence was too lenient, that an early release would diminish the fact that he had killed two innocent women.
He was permitted to speak again. He wiped a tear as he expressed his sorrow, his guilt, and how he had a "life-sentence" knowing he had caused the deaths of our mother and aunt. The chairwoman called for a decision and we filed out of the room while the panel deliberated.
In our waiting area, we deliberated, too. Did we believe him? Could we dare?
It came down to one, simple thing. The words of remose, his apology to us, the family, those words should have been the first words out of his mouth as the hearing began, uttered because he believed them, not because he suddenly realized we were there and watching.
We were called back in and the verdict was read: parole denied, probation lengthened from three to five years. The board had not believed him, either.
And here I am, safe in my home, figuratively surrounded by friends and family, thinking about the advice I gave my niece before we went in to the hearing. Advice I learned after a different lesson. It has served me well. Like me, she thirsted for revenge, she wanted him to pay and pay for his crimes and the hurt she still feels; she was afraid they would let him go.(Though her words were what kept him in prison.) "It doesn't really matter." I told her. "In the end, we all have to live with what he did. And the only person you can control is yourself. You need to live your life. It will never intersect his again, whatever the outcome of today, unless you let your anger at him destroy you. Don't give him that power over you."
Am I following my own advice? I try. I am still numb. I am still conflicted. I wanted to believe him, wanted to see the positive, have faith in the changes, faith in his love for his daughter. I know I am naive. My anger and sorrow will return. I will again want him punished and will feel justified in denying him early freedom. Either way, I will continue with living my own life the best way I can. What he does and who he becomes is irrelevant.
But, deep inside, I hang on to the hope that it will sink in, that he will learn to feel remorse, that he will rehabilitate himself...that some shred of good will come out of this tragedy.