Facing my mother's killer (my former step-father) was something I had thought about since she was murdered 23 years ago. She wanted a divorce. If he couldn't have her, no one could. He shot her six times at point blank range in the head and face.
In my 20's I was very angry, resentful and vengeful. I wanted to meet him in prison so I could yell obscenities at him, get in his face and tell him how he ruined my life. I spent most of my adult life binge drinking to numb the pain and anger. I went through men -- used them, lied to them, or hurt them before they could hurt me. This was all part of my protective mechanism and it served me well until I recently realized it wasn't really serving my highest good. It was preventing me from experiencing real love.
In order to conquer this fear of a real, honest relationship, I must confront the man that taught me "love kills".
Last month, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice finally granted our wish to speak with the man we once looked up to as a father figure. My two sisters and I -- yes, we are in our thirties, single, still live together and do everything together -- traveled to Huntsville Prison to meet our mother's killer.
He walked into our 'dialogue room' and sat across the table from my sisters and me. We had a mediator at the head of the table. He wore no handcuffs, no ankle chains. There was no glass partition between us and there was no security inside the room. Just the five of us sitting at a table as if we were having dinner or in a boardroom meeting.
Thoughts of climbing over the table and attacking him did enter my mind, but so did thoughts of complete compassion. I saw a convicted murderer and I saw a little boy who had been lied to and manipulated by women, including his own mother, since he was a child. He figured my mother was the same. He couldn't take one more woman leaving him. He wanted to be loved. One of the basic human needs -- love.
It wasn't easy but it was necessary. I went in without any expectations and I'm glad I did. Four and a half hours of dialogue later and he never managed to get out the words "I'm sorry". Two simple, yet powerful words and he couldn't even say that.
I struggle with the word forgiveness because it still sounds like a 'get out of jail free' card. I don't excuse his actions. I'm not saying it's okay he did what he did. Oprah has said her definition of forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could be changed. That is a definition of forgiveness I can accept. Staying in anger, frustration, guilt, and resentment was not serving me so I have released those feelings and am working on forgiveness. Getting to this point has not been easy, and it's still something I struggle with.
Seeing my former stepfather in a victim/offender mediation dialogue was powerful. I needed to look him in the eye. I needed to ask him questions. I needed him to see how he hasn't ruined my life. In facing our biggest fears, we find our greatest strengths. I walked out of that prison feeling lighter. I felt free.
There won't be a day that goes by where I wish things were different. I wish she were here so I could call her and ask her how to make her world-famous cornbread. Or take her to Sunday brunch. Or a mother/daughter spa day. I miss her voice. Her laugh. Her smile. But she's not here. She won't be here to meet her future son-in-law. Or her grandchildren. And every mother's day the pain only intensifies.
But my mother lives on inside of me. Her strength, courage, compassion and grace live on through me. Her voice lives on through me and it lives on through my sisters.
This very powerful meeting has inspired my sisters and me to start our foundation Linda's Voice to help put an end to domestic abuse. Her voice may have been silenced that night he shot her, but through her three daughters it will not only live on, it will inspire other women to get out of a domestic abuse situation before it's too late for them. We will use our tragedy to inspire, educate, and assist other women in similar situations so their future turns out better than our mother's.
Kelley Whitis is a Creative Activist Member at Creative Visions Foundation. Click here for more information about In the Nest, a documentary film about gender injustice in Kenya that Kelley is producing with her sisters Summer and Amanda.