It's 7:25 a.m., on a Tuesday and I am riding down the escalator, wearing a simple beige/turquoise dress and my zebra print shoes. I wanted to be understated considering the audience and my topic. As I moved through the crowd I could hear whispers of the previous night's shenanigans and dread of the anticipated long day head of workshop after workshop. I finally reached my destination.
I am greeted by one of the board members from the Institute of Criminal Investigation (ICI), (which I later learned was formed in 1994, with The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to provide criminal investigators of California's law enforcement agencies an advanced training program to meet the needs of their field.)
He shakes my hand, says thanks for coming, expresses his condolences for my loss and leads me to my seat, inside a jam-packed ballroom full of male and female detectives and investigators from all over California.
"We heard you speak in Texas at the FBI Conference, and you were spot on. If you could just make sure to talk about sensitivity, our officers could really use that," he says to me. Anything else he wants me to cover, I ask. "No, just speak from the heart, that's good," he replied.
I am not usually rattled by speeches, but I was feeling a little intimidated on this particular day for no obvious reason, I just felt it in my gut. I had my speech and I had my story to tell, but I just wasn't sure if I could pull it off. I don't typically like to read from my prepared notes; I am much more comfortable off the cuff, but I had 50 minutes to cover this morning and wanted to make sure it was impactful. My mind was racing; there was so much I wanted to say and so many I was speaking on behalf of -- I didn't want to blow my chance.
As I am trying to pull my thoughts together, I get a text message from my son, nervous that he is going to get in trouble because I forgot to sign a piece of paper for school that day. "Sure, I will email her right now, but then I have to sign off, they are calling me to the stage. Love you little man." I replied. I hit send on the email to his teacher and up to the podium I went.
Nothing says "Good Morning" like a discussion on murder, I think to myself as I look out into a sea of faces, just blankly staring back at me. Deep breaths, I can do this. I took one last sip of my coffee, and without hesitation some sassy joke came flying out of my mouth, and as the crowd chuckled at my slightly self-deprecating joke, I immediately felt at ease.
I was home.
Having spent so much time around law enforcement over the years, they had become like family to me. Being witness to so much of what they do and sacrifice, I have grown to respect and admire them tremendously. So being in their space, on this beautiful Tuesday morning, felt safe and comfortable. I was amongst friends. It's true though, I haven't liked every police officer (or detective) I have come in contact with, but nonetheless, they have continued to impress me with their dedication and commitment to keeping our communities safer from harm. So it was important for me to come from a place of compassion both for my own tragedy, and for their tireless efforts "on the job" as well. So I started to talk and hoped I could fill the 50-minute window I was given, by imparting some unique wisdom on this very experienced group.
I can not tell you verbatim what I said but I know I thanked the brave men and women repeatedly for their heroism and their relentless pursuit of justice. I made sure to recognize how difficult and exhausting and emotionally draining their roles must be, as I gingerly told them to "check their shit at the door" before they come face to face with a victim/survivor. I recounted a story of how the coroner's office made the notification of my brother's tragic death via the phone (as opposed to in-person) and how devastating and insensitive that was; I begged them not to make that same unforgettable mistake. I talked about my brother's numerous fatal wounds, and how I lost a piece of my father the day we buried Ron and how palpable the loss remains today. I spoke of respect and reminded them it needed to be reciprocated: "We will respect you (men/women that uphold the law as you so deserve), but we, the victims/survivors, deserve it too."
I acknowledged my understanding that they made a decision to pursue a career in being of service to others, that being an officer/detective was their choice; but that victims don't choose this path and when faced with the worst news of our life, that we rely on law enforcement to be kind, compassionate and respectful. It is a big burden, I get it... but they are our first introduction to the "system" and that leaves a forever impression and we never forget.
I cried. I thanked them again. I cracked another joke. And I cried again. And then I was done.
8:20 on the dot. I never looked at my speech. I had my story.
I walked away feeling lucky. No, strike that, feeling fortunate to have been given such a wonderful opportunity to share the perspective of a victim/survivor but to also meet such amazing people. So many approached me after, sharing stories of the "one case" that continues to haunt them... or the female officer that said "thanks for reminding me to not be such an asshole, sometimes I forget" ... or the male detective that broke down as he told me of a young victim that had been raped by three or four men... and the officer from San Francisco that said he was going to check in on a family whose son was killed a few years back, just to see how they were doing. After a few hugs, lots of smiles, shaking of hands and information exchanged, they were off to their next presentation and I would return to my world as a mom, and executive director of the Youth Project.
I find such tremendous comfort knowing that behind all those shiny badges and tough exteriors, are just good human beings trying to make a difference. I loved how open they were to the small reminders to let their guard down a bit, when working with a victim/survivor whose life has just been catapulted into chaos. Law enforcement agents are such an integral part of our healing process and I hoped by the end of my ramblings, that they could see that as a gift and embrace it as such.
Leaving the hotel, I felt so inspired. I was moved by the emotion in the room, and by the stories I heard (and the beautiful emails I have since received). I felt a deep connection that I wasn't expecting to feel but will cherish forever. We came together for less than hour, barely knowing each other's names, sharing tears, laughs and experiences. What an incredible forever impression this left on my heart.