Friday, December 20, 2013

Minimums & Maximums - Tipping the Scales of Justice

Yesterday President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates, each of whom were non-violent offenders convicted of crack cocaine crimes. One commute was given to Stephanie George who received a life sentence in 1997 for letting her boyfriend hide crack in her home. The judge in her case expressed frustration at not having any choice in her sentencing.

"There’s no question that Ms. George deserved to be punished," said the judge. "The only question is whether it should be a mandatory life sentence... I wish I had another alternative... your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder. So certainly, in my judgment, it doesn’t warrant a life sentence." 

Yet a life sentence --the minimum-- is exactly what Ms. George received.

My father received twenty years with a possibility of parole in ten --the maximum-- for stabbing a woman five times and slicing her throat from ear to ear, nearly decapitating her. A repeat violent offender, he could be back on the streets as early as June 2014. If he serves his full term, June 2022.

I would like an explanation on how a man can be allowed to prey upon women, violently assault them with a deadly weapon and receive what amounts to a slap on the wrist when compared to Ms. George's crime and ultimate sentence. Every day, the news is filled with reports of men with past convictions of rape, molesting children and other heinous crimes who are arrested yet again for violent criminal acts. Why are they allowed three strikes and then some and still given an at bat?

Ms. George was one of eight commutations. According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, there are at least 8,800 more federal inmates sentenced to mandatory minimum terms for crack cocaine crimes before the Fair Sentencing Act was put into action on August 3, 2010, who can appeal their sentences. While not all of those 8,800 deserve shorter sentences (drug crimes are not victimless) many do, especially when compared to offenders like my father.

The Scales of Justice are tipped. It is time for us to right them. 


A few days later, after the last ferry of Cuervo prize-winners was shoved off the dock, I hitched a ride in a dinghy to the main island of Tortola and took a taxi into town, where I borrowed a computer from a friendly shopkeeper. Knowing there was some sort message looming in the universe addressed to me, I scoured the web not knowing what exactly I was searching for.

Was Dad dead or in the hospital? My leg bounced, and I chewed my fingernails. My father’s given name appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram with the grim headline, “Boyfriend Jailed in Knife Attack”. The blood drained from my face. I clicked the link and read the brief report.

BEDFORD - A man was arrested on suspicion of stabbing his girlfriend Thursday night. A 45-year-old woman, who suffered cuts to her neck and upper chest, was in critical condition Friday at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Her boyfriend, Theodore Crews, 55, was in Bedford Jail on Friday with bail set at $100,000 on suspicion of attempted murder.

I thought back to Thursday night. I was partying with a charismatic billionaire in his world, while my world was falling apart.

My heart sank, but there were no tears. I was stoic and contemplative. My mind didn’t race to wonder what happened, why or how. I knew he was capable. It was wishful thinking that what Dad had done to Mom was a fluke. I had pushed aside any worries that his troubles with women were beyond what he described in his letters, choosing to believe that he wasn’t dangerous. But I was wrong. The only thing missing were the gruesome details.

When I flew home to New York, I returned to my full time job at the law office. Arriving at my desk that first day, I acted as though everything was business as usual. I was shell-shocked and the routine kept me from collapsing. Throughout the day, my mind flashed images of a bloody attack on Helen or replayed the scene of Dad attacking Mom. When I slept, my sleep was fitful.

For years after Dad had attacked Mom, I had nightmares of murderous rampages. My dreams were a horror movie, where an unknown villain would stalk and butcher people. I would be the sole survivor, on the run, hiding in terror of being slaughtered. Other times, I dreamed I had killed someone years before and hidden the body. Now, the cops knew about my dark secret and were following me. I woke up feeling consumed with guilt and fear.

Both nightmares haunted me on a regular basis. It had been thirteen years, ten months and twenty-six days since Dad had snapped. The repressed trauma was as alive as if my memories had gotten a stiff snort of smelling salts. My subconscious was screaming for help because I seemingly could not.

I was overwhelmed with anxiety and concern for Helen. I needed to know more than what the article in the paper had told me. What exactly had Dad done to Helen and, more importantly, was she okay? I hoped that finding out the details would allow me to move on. Nervous, I called the Bedford police station and introduced myself.

“Hi, I’m calling about a case I read in the Star Telegram.” My voice shook as I gave the officer Dad’s name and listened to the click, click, clicks of his keyboard as he brought up the case on his computer.

“Oh, yeah, this one. The officer on scene busted down the door and found him on top of her stabbin’ her.”

Just like when I interrupted Dad straddling Mom that night.

“So what can I do you for?”

“Um, well,” I cleared my throat. “I, uh, what about Helen? Is she okay?”

I rubbed my neck and tried to loosen my shirt that felt uncomfortably close to my skin.

“What’s yer relationshee-ip?”

“Oh, um, well, Theodore…” I said, awkwardly repeating Dad’s formal name as it was written in the article. “The man who did it…Theodore…he’s my father.”

“I see,” he paused, weighing the situation that was presenting itself to him. “Well, last I heard she was in the hospital and might not make it. She pretty much lost all her blood.” He spoke bluntly, clearly someone who had seen more than his fair share of crime scenes and had lost the ability to buffer the brutal truth. “If the officers didn’t get there when they did, we’d be lookin’ at a murder case.”

Unable to muster enough air behind my voice to make a word, I squeaked, “Oh.” I rubbed my lips together in a poor attempt to press away the trembling tension that was building up.

“He damn near decapitated her.”

The disturbing news surged through me, but the angry tone in the sergeant’s voice caught me off guard. Did he think I was calling to defend my father? He made me feel as though by being related to Dad, I had helped plunge the knife into Helen’s neck. The judgment I perceived in the officer’s voice made me want to set him straight. I fought back the swelling emotions. “It wasn’t the first time.”

“What’s that? Yer gonna have to speak up, Ma’am.”

“He did it before. Back in August 1988…in North Richland Hills. Look it up.”

I didn’t want my father to slip through the legal system’s cracks unpunished. If they knew a case existed with a similar modus operandi, they would realize they were dealing with a repeat offender and sentence him accordingly.

The embedded splinter of anger and betrayal had risen to the surface. Ratting out Dad’s past brutality against women to an officer extracted the anger all together. A sense of clarity and calm blanketed me, soon followed by guilt. I knew Dad would finally be punished, but at what cost? Helen’s life was in the balance and I, his own daughter, wanted him to pay not only for what he had done to Helen, but for what he had done to our family.

I wanted justice.


Joy said...

Great blog and excerpt Kambri.

Agua said...

Powerful, Kambri!

StaceyG said...

This has been on my mind a LOT. I even wrote a blog post about it on Alpha Minds:

We're in the process of choosing a charity to help stop this idiocy. Thanks for posting this! xoxo

sarasmile4641 said...

Loved your book. I'm trying to learn ASL, it's kind of confusing because I will see several different signs that mean the same thing,like computer for example. I've seen 3 signs for computer. I get confused and don't know which sign to use. Can't wait for you to post some more cards and letters your father has sent you.