I don’t think it is necessarily unusual for a writer to have more difficulty with their craft when they feel highly stressed. However, when you are a writer who feels specifically compelled to share experiences that are both very personal and very stressful to you, it presents a unique problem. I have chosen to write this blog today as a conscious effort to overcome that challenge; so, I can finally get on with my real work.
Today I would like to share with you the experience of being a victim of an acceptable crime. Wrongful conviction does not always fall into a classification where it could be considered a crime. No system designed by men, no matter how carefully crafted, can ever be perfect. We can strive to get very close, but everyone with an MBA, and every true scientist, will tell you that true perfection is unattainable. There will always be accidents, and there will always be errors. That said, a very large number of us do fall in the category of crime victims.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 52% of analyzed cases of wrongful conviction included official misconduct in some form. In Alaska, where I live, A.S. 11.56.850 specifies that official misconduct is a class A misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to one year in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Many of us would argue that this classification is exceedingly imbalanced with the years and decades stolen from a person’s life as a result; however, the point is that it is unambiguously a crime according to state law.
Sadly, Alaska is also a state where the victim of a crime has no say whatsoever in whether that crime is ever prosecuted. I have personally hand-carried and reviewed with the head of our criminal division the documentation and other evidence clearly showing the crimes committed against my husband and myself by multiple state officials. The response is that they are, “electing not to prosecute at this time.” The crime committed against me is inherently an acceptable crime. The criminals in question are considered immune due to nothing more complex than their job titles and employer.
Living as a victim of a crime is already a difficult daily reality. Finding out that you are the victim of an acceptable crime, and that the officials responsible for protecting you and upholding the law have utterly no interest in doing so, only compounds that difficulty. I doubt that most of them truly understand the direct harm an indirect danger their willful negligence puts victims like myself into.
Most Americans associate the words vigilante justice with Batman and Robin, wild-west heroes, or crime dramas that present police officers who break the law in a positive light. In our modern age, vigilante justice often takes on a whole new form rarely portrayed in the media. The Internet has become a platform where people can spew hateful, ignorant opinions in violent terms with little fear of consequence. It never ceases to amaze me when people express these opinions as responses to accusations of crimes, and then suggest in the very same posts that someone commit an even more heinous and violent crime against the accused as an appropriate response.
The result is a toxic and dangerous combination of complacency and negligence. The people who leave these posts often would never commit the act themselves if really presented the opportunity. If I put a gun in their hand and stood in front of them, the vast majority of them would never actually pull the trigger. However, there is an unknown quantity of people in the mix who would. Perhaps this person would never leave a post of that nature themselves, but could be motivated to action by the compelling words of someone else. Especially, when that person’s violent discourse is defended again and again by additional individuals from the community.
This may all sound highly dramatic to you if you haven’t lived through it yourself. I have.
After my husband was wrongfully convicted for my daughter’s accidental death, I had friends regularly beg me not to read the comments on various news articles. I stood in bold support of my innocent spouse, and publicly spoke about the wicked mutilation of my beloved child’s memory. I tried to communicate the truth, and expose the actual crimes that were being committed against us.
According to the raging, ignorant voices of the Internet, the appropriate course of action was to rape and murder me. I was a 22-year-old girl when my daughter fell down the stairs and later died of a brain injury in surgery. Three months later I was tortured by Alaska State Troopers for four solid hours with autopsy photos of my child cut up into pieces; screaming and yelling at me that I wasn’t a good mother, and I didn’t love her if I wouldn’t look. If you don’t believe me, the video is publicly available on YouTube. I was never a suspect in the case, and the torture committed against me was purely for the purpose of turning me against my innocent spouse.
That night was probably the first time that I felt like a crime victim in this situation. I was held by police under the belief that I wasn’t allowed to leave. For more than 2 ½ years I had: blank spots of memory, panic attacks, cessations of breathing, insomnia, night terrors, uncontrollable flashbacks, and other extreme symptoms of severe PTSD. I tried self-medicating a couple of times; which did not slow or stop the symptoms in any way. I desperately wanted to die, and if I had not defeated the temptation of suicide as a pre-teen I likely would have.
Attorneys simply told us not to talk to anyone, about anything, for any reason, because innocence served as no form of shield. For months, I could not even admit to my husband what had been done to me, and he had no idea how to help. Finally, a veteran in my life learned what was happening to me, and stepped in to save me. They explained to me what triggers were, how to exercise avoidance, how to find safe spaces, and how to even admit what was happening. I’d never felt so out of control of my own mind in all of my life. It haunted me that my symptoms were not caused by my daughter’s death, because they were so extremely overshadowed by the mental and emotional torture I had been subjected to.
This is where I come from. It will always be a part of who I am. It was only the beginning.
After my husband’s wrongful conviction more than six years later, the general population now screamed for more blood. How dare I support someone who is convicted of murder. How dare I tell them they were wrong. How dare I “pretend” to love my little girl.
I became the target of their vicious words, but even those who love me became at risk of their action. One of my family members had someone pull a gun on them at the gas station, because he recognized them from the nightly news. A friend of mine had people openly swear at her, and throw things at her children in the grocery store, because they’d seen her hugging me in the newspaper. Someone eventually tampered with my vehicle, and I went into hiding for a brief period after my husband’s sentencing; emotionally gutted every day by my inability to visit him.
Things eventually improved. I knew that the bulk of the rage and venom being spewed at me and the people I loved was fueled by ignorance, and lies which had been published in the press. I’m a communications major, a professional public speaker, and a writer. I could not sit idly by.
With the help of numerous other people who still actively support my husband, we set about the task of informing the public of the truth. I know exactly how difficult this is for anyone facing a wrongful conviction. We have an entire team, and it has taken strategic planning over multiple years for our message to reach the eyes, ears, and heart of the community.
Our success has brought me hope. I have an unfortunate tendency to still expect the rage and venom when I share my story with new people. In recent months, however, I have instead been met by compassion and empathy. It is not uncommon now to hear that they have heard about my story, and have even prayed for my husband and me.
Then, days like yesterday happen, and I have to write out posts like these to consciously remind myself about the progress we’ve made.
The Definition of Who You Are
I am very excited about one of the current projects I’m working on. It’s a children’s picture book for kids who are struggling with the wrongful conviction of a loved one. It is my hope that our experience with the subject can lead to something positive, and inspire at least a little hope for these families trapped in situations which feel so hopeless. The book is not about our particular case, but is a generic reflection of the experience children trapped in these situations have.
Yet, when attempting to share this project with my local community on a Facebook news group yesterday, I found myself thrown once again into that Internet cesspool of ignorance and rage. The admin of the group apparently found it appropriate to allow my post, and then immediately post a link to the news article about my husband’s conviction and make the ‘announcement’ that I am his wife. She was challenged on this choice almost immediately by someone I don’t know personally, but defended the decision by stating that it showed “the other side of the story.”
I was flabbergasted.
The book has nothing to do with our specific case, other than the fact that I am the author. The manuscript is not publicly available, and the book is not in print yet. The only “other side” to any “story” that I could come up with was my statement that I have experience with wrongful conviction. Apparently, an argument broke out in the comment section (imagine that) and the post was ultimately removed.
I believe God shielded me from the worst of it. After I saw the admin’s initial strange choice, I stopped monitoring the situation so I could attend a fundraising event for our local innocence project. My Facebook app had spontaneously corrupted on my phone, and I didn’t even realize I wasn’t receiving notifications. I sat with a couple of my friends last night, and casually mentioned how her choice had made me feel. They immediately pulled it up on their own phones, and grew very angry after reading through the continued conversation. They once again begged me… not to read the comments.
I intended to be “strong” this morning, and look it over anyway. There’s something in me that always feels obligated to read the precious words of those who try so valiantly to jump to my defense. When I saw the post had been removed, I realized it was not meant to be.
So here I am. Trying in entirely too many words to explain what it feels like to be defined by crime. One camp defines me by the inexcusable crime my husband is wrongly convicted of. I often need to define myself by the acceptable crime that was actually committed against me out of vengeance for the original crime that was invented.
My experience yesterday felt vaguely like walking into a room of strangers to hold up a piece of art I was very proud of, to show it to them. Then a woman stands up on the front row, pointing a finger and screaming about me being a loose woman, when in fact I am a rape victim instead. It feels like no matter what you say, or what proof you might be able to offer, the damage has been done. You are being redefined once again not as a human being, but as a name associated with a series of events and an acceptable crime beyond your control. I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to reason with them. I knew that both were impossible.
In the end, I know I am not the only one that faces this kind of struggle. I am far from alone. If you face this reality with me, I beg of you to consider the following words and hold them close to your heart. God knows the truth, even if no one else ever does.
““no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17 - New International Version (NIV)
(c) 2017 Christiane Allison