Monday, November 5, 2012

Confronting a Killer

I anticipate tomorrow being one of the most emotional of my life: meeting the man who killed Dustin, face to face. 

When the legal case was still in the works, after the Deputy District Attorney explained why she suggested a plea deal, she told me to tell her what I wanted in that deal. I researched what options I might have, with a goal of holding Dustin’s killer accountable while at the same time helping him now and in his future life. Yes, I was thinking rehabilitation, enlightenment, and support for Ashawntae. After all, he wasn’t going to be in prison forever, just a few years.

I stumbled onto The Facilitated Dialogue Program through the Oregon Dept. of Corrections. The goal is a face to face meeting where “a crime victim/survivor could engage in a safe and meaningful dialogue process with the inmate who harmed them.” 

I asked myself: did I really want to meet the person who stole Dustin’s life? Could I handle it? What did I hope to gain from it? What if I didn’t get what I hoped? Would Ashawntae want to meet with me? What if it ended badly? What if? What if? What if? 

After much thinking about it, after discussing it with the Deputy DA (who’d never heard it), I decided it was worth putting this requirement into the plea agreement. And the defendant accepted – after his own what ifs, probably. Or maybe not, maybe accepting having to meet with me was a simple decision when it came to deciding between possibly being convicted of Manslaughter in a trial or pleading to Criminally Negligent Homicide. 

Ashawntae having to face Dustin, at least this one time
However. The time is now. If you’ve read the article I linked, you know what I’ve gone through so far. It really has been like described. Emily is even one of our facilitators! 

I am so nervous. I have my outline of what I want to talk about, what I can’t forget to say.  I’m the one who starts the dialogue, but what do I want to start with? What should be the first words I say to the man who took away Dustin’s precious life? I know I want Ashawntae to know who Dustin was, how important he was to so many, the dreams he had for his future that he will never be able to fulfill. I want him to know how the loss of those dreams, those actions, that life, impact me as his mother because I was invested in them as well. Twenty-nine years investment destroyed in a single instant by a stranger with no thought but for himself. 

I want him to know that I’m not the only one hurt. Dustin’s family, Dustin’s friends, classmates, acquaintances.,. And what about Ashawntae’s own family, friends, acquaintances? I’ve even thought about the man who owned the vehicle he was driving. According to the police report, the SUV was totaled. But the owner still had to make a decision about its disposition, right? And he had to think that his vehicle killed someone. And his insurance paid burial benefits and a personal injury settlement for a fatality. Maybe his insurance rates went up.

You can't see the damage to the SUV, but it's there
I’ll tell him how I have PTSD sometimes, how somehow a large part of me died with Dustin. I don’t know myself anymore, don’t know how to predict how I’ll feel about something, aren’t even able to predict what is going to come out of my mouth anymore. In all these DUII and High Risk Driver classes I go to, I’ve heard that people with brain damage have lost their “filters,” they just say whatever they want with no thought to how it sounds to others. And they are angry. Perhaps grief causes a little bit of brain damage.  I don’t know about that, but I do know I am largely not who I used to be. And I don’t like it.

I’m a little scattered. Can you tell? 

This event is probably just going to be one of those things that no matter how you prepare for them, you can’t prepare for every eventuality. People want to know how I feel. I don’t know, How will I feel after this is over? I don’t know. Hopefully relief. Hopefully I’ll know then how to feel about Ashawntae instead of this confusion, this up and down, back and forth mind scrambling angst. 

I can hope.


  1. Well written as usual! ...I hope that in tomorrow's meeting everything will go smoothly , and this will (finally)allow you some well deserved peace! As always, I love you and will be there for you!

  2. Friend, you are about to do one of the bravest things most of us cannot do, and that is, to face your own emotions of sorrow, fear, anger, maybe even hatred with someone you don't know. while during the same time, struggling to forgive this someone who is responsible for these emotions in taking your son away. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. I pray he comprehends the compassion you have shown him and gives you the respect you deserve. My hope is that after this meeting, it begins a new chapter in your life that allows you to feel closure and begin a new emotion of peace.

  3. You don't sound scattered at all Kristi. I hope everything goes as well as can be expected. I think personalizing Ashwantaes crime by meeting with him and talking with him is bound to have some kind of positive impact on him.He will still be very young once he's out so I think the more he has to think about right now the better. Good for you, your strength amazes me.