Sunday, October 28, 2012

Prison and High Risk Driver Class

We survived our prison visit. Although there are rows of razor wire around the perimeter fence, there are no guard towers. There was no pat down or even a metal detector. There was a clanging gate. One, and the buzz to open the gate was louder than any clanging. So basically, we signed in, gave our I.D., agreed that we wouldn’t hold the prison liable if anything happened to us, were buzzed in, immediately went down a stairwell and were taken into a conference room within maybe 30 feet. I briefly saw the “chow hall” which was just down the corridor and not locked up, which surprised me. But this is a minimum security prison, after all. 

We familiarized ourselves with the room we’re going to meet Ashawntae in, decided where we all would sit, discussed how the meeting would start and the roles of the facilitators, talked more about what our goals are and how we’ll achieve them, how we’ll handle our emotions, what we’ll do before and after to take care of ourselves, follow up appointments to see how we’re doing, and… we moved the big date up.
November 6th is now the day.  The facilitators think all of us are ready and there is no use in delaying another month. This is fine with me, too. I did, after all, end my last blog with “I’ll be glad when this whole thing is over.”

This means I can no longer procrastinate getting my pictures organized and an outline written of what I want to cover. I only have 8 more days! And 5 of those I’ll spend at work, only leaving me a few evenings and one Saturday. I will be attending The Compassionate Friends support group on Wednesday evening, therapy on Thursday evening, and on Sunday we’ll have our last Facilitated Dialogue meeting at 6:30 after a 12 mile hike on Eagle Creek. At least I’m done with my speaking engagements for a few weeks (I’m taking the 10th and 12th off to celebrate mine and Glenn’s 1st wedding anniversary... we are still pretty happy with each other). 

Regarding speaking engagements. The High Risk Driver class yesterday was WOW. I always find them interesting but yesterday was … WOW. I speak after a young man named Tyler Presnell, who was very badly injured in a crash at 14; it’s a miracle he survived. He suffered massive internal injuries but the most significant was Traumatic Brain Injury. Tyler’s message, delivered very high energy, includes his story, but mainly that it’s not cool to drive unsafely, that it’s a sign of disregard and disrespect for everyone else on the road. 

Yesterday he hit some nerves in the audience; a couple people confronted him about being “overly judgmental.” There was some back and forth of increasing intensity and Tyler clearly tried to de-escalate the situation, but then one audience member asked a complaining member what he was attending the class for and when he said it was for driving over 100 mph, the whole audience erupted (probably between 100-125 people). Everyone was yelling and pretty much didn’t stop until the facilitator, Jim, had the fast driver leave the auditorium. Several other men left at the same time. Then Jim said Tyler had used his time and had him leave as well. The remaining audience shouted support  as he left and he directed them to his website or facebook page to give feedback. I think he was pretty shook up.

After that, I’m not sure anybody will remember my presentation (I did get a couple rounds of applause and some tears, but I’m sure I was pretty hum drum after Tyler).And I thought it was one of my best...

We'll Be in Prison in the Morning

In less than 12 hours Glenn and I will be in prison. Fortunately, it’s our decision to go and we’ll get to leave when we want. Santiam Correctional Institution is a minimum security facility southeast of Salem and is where the young man who killed Dustin is incarcerated.
On November 29th, we are scheduled to meet with Ashawntae through the Facilitated Dialogue Program. Tomorrow (today!) is our “practice run.” We were given the option of either arriving early on what I call “the big day” or visiting it beforehand, and I opted for this separate visit. I figure it’s going to be difficult enough for me to be in a prison much less experiencing that and then the “big event” just a short while later. Of course, I am picturing the halls with bright lights and clanging gates locking behind me every 20 feet, getting a pat down, rude correctional officers, having my belongings riffled, like I’ve seen on TV. I don’t even watch that much TV.

We were told by our facilitators to not wear blue denim – to not wear blue at all, actually; we don’t want to look like the prisoners – and to "keep the drugs and weapons in the car." I love Emily and Shyvonne! We’ve been meeting with them for several months now, usually every other week. At first it was for them to assess our suitability for the Facilitated Dialogue Program, I think. We have to want to visit with Ashawntae for the right reasons and it has to appear that doing so will have a good outcome for us all. On his part, he has to be taking responsibility for what he’s done, want to meet with us for the right reasons, and be in good standing with the prison. 

Lately we’ve been focusing on the big meet itself and the time surrounding it. For the meeting, what am I hoping to get out of it? What do I want to ask? What do I want to say? What do I want him to know about Dustin? What pictures do I want to take? How am I going to be able to handle it emotionally? How open – vulnerable- do I want to be? What kind of support do I need from Glenn (who is not allowed to participate in the dialogue)? How am I going to take care of myself before the meeting? Afterward? How is Glenn going to take care of himself? Whew!

And all of that is why I decided to visit the prison an entirely separate time than just go a little early on the big day. Even just this visit without the meet is going to be very emotional, I’m sure. It’s a prison, where killers go. And rapists. Child molesters. Scam artists. (Now I’m trying to think of all the types of criminals who might be there; yes, it’s good I’ve decided to do this one step at a time). 

So I should go to bed now, since we have to be up and out of here by 9:00. Hopefully I can sleep. I feel tired, but that doesn’t mean anything lately. I’ll be glad when this whole thing is over.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Strange Indifference to Highway Carnage

I wasn't going to write tonight, but I ran across this article with this very apt name describing what I also believe, that there is A Strange Indifference to Highway Carnage.

Since Dustin's death, I've developed hyper-sensitivity regarding traffic collisions. I search them out (especially hit-and-runs and drunk driving) and research them (what happened, what is public opinion, what eventually happened) and also research the statistics. 33,883 traffic deaths in 2009, over 2 million injuries. Almost 93 fatalities per day!

That's outrageous and yet most people don't even notice. They see the news article, they're horrified for a few seconds, and then they forget about it. I do truly believe it's the "it can't happen to me" mentality. I know, I used to have that mentality. I had that mentality so strongly that even with the chaplain at the front door at 5:00 a.m. asking if I was related to Dustin Finney, the thought that something really horrendous had happened didn't cross my mind. He actually had to say the words, those horrible, life-changing words, before I had an inkling that "it had happened to me"... more specifically, it had happened to Dustin, my child and a young man in the prime of his life.

One of the most unexpected and devastating changes in my life now is that since I know it can happen to me, I'm waiting for it to happen again. And I say this is devastating because I used to be a trusting person and I no longer am. I used to be a "go with the flow" type of person and I no longer am. My very thoughts and behaviors have changed. I didn't just lose Dustin, I lost myself and am now living with a stranger. So is my new husband who did not marry the woman he thought he was marrying.

I mentioned looking into public opinion earlier. That is because after Dustin was struck directly from behind at probably 50-60 miles per hour by a driver who then side-swiped another bicyclist and sped away, both Dustin and Kevin were blamed by some people for what happened. Just because they were on bicycles. A drunk driver overshoots a corner 3 blocks back, drives down the bike lane, hits two people riding bikes equipped with front and rear lights, leaves them dead and injured in the road like they were just garbage, and people blamed the victims. I was astounded, hurt, infuriated. And hugely protective toward Dustin and Kevin.

In my research, I've discovered this "blame the victim" attitude is not uncommon at all. That's part of why this blog is important to me because suffering that blame was a totally unexpected part of this tragedy and I want others to know it happens. I guess some people just think the survivors don't have enough to go through already.

Another thing you see in public reaction is humor or joking. One time I made a comment online about the inappropriateness of joking after a tragedy such as this and someone replied that they had to do it because of the people who just take it all too seriously. I admitted that yes, I did take it seriously, RIP Dustin Finney.

So, there is a strange indifference to highway carnage. Highway, rural route, residential road, urban street, no matter where this carnage happens, it's all met with waaayyy more indifference than you'd think. I truly hope that other people don't have to learn that there's a reason to care the same way I did: the hard way.

Drive safe. Really. No one else is looking out for you or your loved ones.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Crazy Now and Again

I’d always thought that if something happened to any of my children, I would just immediately go crazy. Really, just take me away in a straitjacket. But it doesn’t happen that way. I’ve discovered that I’m only crazy some of the time and sometimes I know it and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes other people think I’m crazy but I don’t think I am. 

My family thought I was crazy at the site of the crash, when I put my fingers into Dustin’s blood that was still on the road, when I picked up bits of his hair that hadn’t been washed away. Doing that just seemed obvious to me, touching part of my child.

Crazy to me was waking up every morning and reliving the chaplain on the front porch, telling me my son was dead. Every morning. I also would get a glimpse of his silhouette on the front porch every time I happened to glance out the kitchen window just right.

Crazy is how I felt one day a couple months after Dustin’s death when I was just walking along the sidewalk and a car came around the corner, in its own lane, going a reasonable speed, but what I unexpectedly experienced in my mind was it coming speeding over the curb and crashing into me so that I was thrown up onto the hood before being catapulted through the air. 

Crazy is what I was on Mother’s Day, when I cried so long and so hard I honestly thought I wasn’t going to be able to stop, that I was going to die crying. I never knew that one body could manufacture so much snot.

Crazy is what I think other people are when I get sad and they say, “What’s wrong? Did something happen?” Did they FORGET that my son was killed?

I don’t think of Dustin every minute of every day like I did the first few months. But it’s like living with chronic pain. You have no choice but to live with it and you get to where you’re not thinking of it constantly, not noticing it sometimes in the busyness of life, but in a split second, with no warning at all, the pain is there again front and center. 

You never know what’s going to bring it to your awareness. Like last night, watching Jay Leno and the guest star was Justin Timberlake. Now, I don’t know what Dustin would think of this, but I think there’s a resemblance between him and Justin Timberlake. 

Every bicyclist or bicycle reminds me of Dustin. Sometimes it’s certain books (anything Native American or about hiking or Germany), or a food (like Raisin Bran), or music (Marvin Gaye, Beethoven). It can even just be a big soup pot (he requested one his last Christmas). 

Our last Christmas 2010, choosing between soup pots
 And one day in an innocent conversation, Glenn (my husband) used a slang military term: F.U.B.A.R. “F***ed Up Beyond All Repair.” It hit me like a sledgehammer. My son was F.U.B.A.R. Dustin was F.U.B.A.R. That craziness stayed in my head nearly constantly for days (and is still here, a year later).

There are the more obvious things that make me think of Dustin’s death: other car or bicycle or pedestrian crashes. Seeing bad driving that doesn’t result in crashes. It seems almost every book I’ve read lately mentions some parent losing a child (I read mostly mysteries [or non-fiction]…and Harlen Coben is the greatest!). 

I do want to think of Dustin sometimes. There are so many terrific memories of him and of course thinking of him keeps him alive. My biggest fear, and the fear of so many parents of deceased children, I’ve found, is that he will be forgotten. You know, out of sight, out of mind. Nothing scares me more or upsets me more or fills me with more dread. Even though I know it’s an unreasonable thought that he’ll be forgotten. Even though thinking he’ll be forgotten makes me feel guilty because doesn’t that mean that I somehow think he wasn’t very important to people? (See, more craziness!).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hit and runs and why me

Tonight I’ve been trying to rev up my outrage about hit-and-runs. Even though a hit-and-run driver took Dustin’s life and changed my life forever, it gets tiring to hold onto the anger all the time. If I think about it too much, I get depressed and hopeless and don’t want to get out of bed. Or at least out of the house. So, sometimes I don’t think about it enough and when I do that, the importance of increasing awareness of the epidemic of hit-and-run and the need to change the laws fades into the background. Life is certainly easier when I’m not letting myself think about it. 

However, something inevitably reminds me of Dustin and then that reminds me of what happened and then I feel angry and/or sad. Then as I’m thinking more of Dustin, I think of all the things I learned about him after he died and all the things I understood better about him, and that motivates me to be like him. 

(I want to say “my son” here, that I want to be like “my son,” but doing so would make me feel as though I’m trying to own his accomplishments somehow. What he did, the way he conducted himself, was his achievement and not mine. I’ve found that when mourning, the tendency is to make the loved one more personal to oneself by referring to him or her by the relationship rather than by his or her name.  But I digress [he would use the word digress, I know he would]).


I want to be like Dustin because he was focused. He was determined. He knew what he wanted and he did what he had to do to get it. He dedicated his time, his money, his voice, his very person to what he believed in and what he thought was right. And what I find so very amazing about this, the utmost in inspiring, is that this was new to him. Oh, he’d certainly had times that he made up his mind about something and stuck to it and learned everything he could, but it had all only really involved himself. He learned about Native Americans when he was a young teenager, he taught himself German, that type of thing. But sometime in 2010, a little over a year before he was killed, his “potential exploded” (thanks for the description, James), and he was a changed man. I remember him once telling me he wished I’d taught him to be more assertive; I told him I couldn’t teach him what I didn’t know myself. And then seemingly overnight, he was assertive. He was outspoken. He said what he thought and didn’t apologize for it - probably in large part because he always made sure that he had his facts straight before he spoke. 

And he gave. He supported Planned Parenthood, MercyCorps, Greenpeace, Prostate Cancer research, and OPB with monthly monetary donations. He supported numerous freethought groups, community events, and a homeless shelter with funds and his time.

Dustin (on left) in the Portland Gay Pride Parade, wearing the t-shirt he designed.
Other than the fact that he attended groups and had become a board member of the Columbia chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, nobody knew he was doing all those other things. I was astounded when I found out, especially the money part. He was an unemployed full time college student living only on his student loans. Not even food stamps (unemployed college students don’t qualify for food stamps unless they have kids or are over 49 or disabled).

So, yes, I want to be like Dustin. Dedicated. Determined. Courageous. Compassionate. I want to make a difference and that difference will be for Dustin. Well, not only for. Because of. And that is why I am going to do my part, hopefully a big part, in revealing the hidden epidemic of hit-and-run

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Getting started with our story

It’s an old cliché but true: life takes us unexpected places. Some welcome, some not. I think I will like this new part, this writing part, of the unexpected path my life has taken in the past 13 months. If only it hadn’t taken my child dying to get me here. Because frankly, I’d rather still not be writing and have him back. I’d rather still be ignorant in ways I am no longer ignorant and have him alive.

July 31, 2011 at Lower Falls Campground on the Lewis River. This is the last picture we took of Dustin. He was killed 12 days later.
Dustin was 28 years old when his life was violently ended by a drunk driver. He was not the driver’s only victim at the crash scene. A teenager, Kevin, was also struck. Kevin was knocked down, thankfully suffering just minor physical injuries. Kevin was the one who experienced Dustin flying past him, he was the one who witnessed Dustin’s death, the one who had to see the aftermath: the bruised and bloody and broken body of a young man he’d never known. And Kevin understood that it could have been him.

I am so glad that Kevin had no real physical injuries to go with the emotional scars and wounds that he may have for the rest of his life because of the selfish and self-centered actions taken by a young man who not only killed one person and injured another, but then left them both behind on the roadway like garbage.

Hit-and-run: a selfish crime of immorality. I’m not going to get into it much right now, but it hurts to know that Dustin was left dead on the road, that the person who killed him had no concern for him whatsoever. The 18 year old driver didn’t know what condition Dustin was in. He didn’t know what condition Kevin was in. He didn’t care to find out. He didn’t care that Kevin had to see the damage he had done while he himself was spared that horror.  

The large green outline was where Dustin hit the ground 80 feet from impact. He slid another 95 feet to just past where the people are.
He didn’t even have to see what I saw the next day when I went to the crime scene: the paint marks indicating various aspects of the crash, green for Dustin and orange for Kevin; the remains of the pool of blood where Dustin first hit the ground; tufts of Dustin’s hair mixed in with the filth along the curb where he came to rest; minuscule remnants of bikes strewn along the road. He didn’t see the sign suspended over the crash site that read: Portland Safety Corridor. Hang up and drive (it didn’t matter to me that it didn’t say Don’t drink and drive; it was still a reminder to drive safely. A reminder that meant nothing and made no difference).

Ashawntae Rosemon fled the scene of the crime and in doing so avoided seeing and experiencing the physical result of what he did. He should have seen it. He deserved to see it. He deserves to still see it in his mind’s eye whenever he thinks about what he did. I thought briefly just now that perhaps what he imagines is worse than what he would have seen (you know how we can make something worse in our minds than it really is), but could he really imagine worse than what actually was? He did kill someone, after all. Violently. Senselessly. Recklessly.

So, it feels good to get this stuff out in writing, though I resist using the term “good” in any context having to do with the loss of Dustin. But I love to write, always have, although I always thought I’d write about love or domestic violence or nature… not my personal thoughts surrounding the death of the first greatest love of my life. No one should have to write about the death of their child. It’s just not supposed to be this way.