Tricia Forbes is the Texas-based Regional Training Manager with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. She shared her story in The Hill in December 2018. You can read the full article here. My experience as a survivor of violence is similar to that of many survivors. The first time I was raped I was in college. I was sexually assaulted twice more in my early twenties. I have struggled with panic attacks and depression, and for many years I used drugs and alcohol to cope. Now in recovery and 10 years sober, I work with other crime survivors to fight for policies that promote healing over retribution.I have learned through my past work as a victim advocate that preventing crimes like sexual violence and creating a more humane criminal justice system are not opposing goals. They are actually mutually beneficial. Twenty-five years ago, my work for a family violence program in Asheville, N.C., took me to halfway houses, where I spoke with women returning home from prison. Almost all of them suffered domestic or sexual violence, often times both. Their crimes were generally low-level drug offenses. This has not changed. The vast majority of incarcerated women–and a large number of incarcerated men–are themselves victims of physical or sexual abuse who need mental health services, addiction treatment, counseling, and support rather than longer prison sentences.
Lindsey is from Texas and shared her story for the 2016 release of Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views: It took days before my family and I found out that my sister was killed by her husband. At first, we thought she died in a car accident. It took even longer — throughout the trial — to get the full picture of what happened that day. We now know that my sister and her husband were arguing. In the heat of the moment, he shot and killed her. My family received no information, support, or a sense of collaboration with officials handling my sister’s case. In the immediate aftermath of her death, we had to struggle just to get custody of my nephew. We didn’t know who to go to for information or how to get help. To this day, no one in my family, except my nephew, has received counseling. But the trauma has affected us all. Victims and families need help recovering from crime. I’ve also come to realize that focusing too much on punishment can cause us to lose sight of the big picture. Initially, I was very angry at my brother-in-law and wanted retribution. But with time, I began to think about how the system had failed us all. My brother-in-law had substance abuse addiction issues and had been incarcerated. Did his drug addiction and experience in prison play a role in his loss of control? He’s not a bad person. Public safety must be the top priority. But I believe we can best achieve that by helping those with substance abuse and mental health problems. Our criminal justice system should do more to help rehabilitate people like my brother-in-law instead of making them worse off and more likely to commit crimes.
On Aug. 24, 2009, I had finished college and was offered a contract to play professional basketball in Europe. My dreams were coming true. That evening, as I was leaving a convenience store, two men tried to rob me. Before I knew it, I was lying on the ground, shot twice in my back. I nearly died. Weeks in the hospital turned into months of rehabilitation. Those bullets ended my basketball career. I didn’t know what I needed to heal from the trauma: how to access the physical and emotional support necessary to fully recover. It was overwhelming just to pay medical bills, handle inquiries from law enforcement and return to work. At times, I have asked, “Why me?” But five out of 10 men in my family had been shot, and I’ve lost 40 friends to gun violence, including my best friend when we were only 10. While recovering, I decided to replace despair and resentment with action. I made a commitment to stop cycles of violence that for decades have plagued too many communities of color, even while spending on prisons skyrocketed. There’s no shortage of resources; it’s that too little is invested in helping victims or our hardest hit communities. I’m committed to changing that. I went back to school for my masters in social work and now work to ensure that community groups best positioned to serve our most vulnerable communities can access the resources they need. When I see the scars on my body from that night in 2009, I often think I should not be here. But when I look at the faces of survivors I now work with, I am reminded of what I am here to do.
John is from Connecticut and shared his story for the 2016 release of Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views: Over the course of three years, I was robbed once and burglarized twice at my apartment. I was physically assaulted during the robbery. The physical wounds didn’t take long to heal, but the mental and emotional scars stayed with me for many years. I avoided using the front door where I was accosted, and I was skittish of people hanging out in my neighborhood. The police never caught the men who robbed me. They drove me around and tried to pin the crime on an innocent person. I refused to identify the wrong person. Instead, I channeled my feeling of helplessness into creating an environment of safety where I lived. I formed a safety committee in my building. We installed handlebars to quickly close the doors behind us, trimmed the bushes and built community among each other. Other than talking with friends and family, I didn’t receive support to deal with the aftermath. These incidents occurred more than a dozen years ago, but when I think about them, they still trigger traumatic memories and feelings. I don’t wish for retribution, but I do want to help come up with solutions that can provide support services for victims to help them heal.
Doris is from Illinois and shared her story for the 2016 release of Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views: Three days after my son was killed, I publicly forgave the perpetrator. I didn’t know who did it, but I knew many of my son’s friends would be at the vigil where I declared my forgiveness, young people who were angry and in pain. I did not want to provoke vengeance or retribution. More violence would not bring my beloved son back. I also thought about the mother of the person who killed my son. She was suffering, too; her child took someone’s life. I didn’t want to add to that pain. There isn’t a lot of support for mothers who’ve lost their kids to violence. So, in 2013, I decided to form an organization to meet that need. Padres Angeles (Parents of Angels) conducts street outreach, supports parents who’ve lost their children, and holds workshops to strengthen family communication and relationships. We also organize vigils and marches to respond to community violence. By helping other families, I found healing for myself. I believe that violence is a complex issue that requires a varied and coordinated response — much like treating a cancer patient with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The current criminal justice system’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for low-income communities of color. Instead of jails and prisons, we need more emphasis on rehabilitation to help people turn their lives around.
Dorothy is from Pennsylvania and shared her story for the 2016 release of Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views: On December 6, 2001, at 2 a.m., I got a call. My 24-year-old son, Khaaliq, was in the hospital — shot seven times by a neighbor over an argument about a parking spot. By the time I arrived at the hospital, he was already gone. After Khaaliq died, I didn’t want to live. I was overwhelmed by the pain, despair and anger. Eventually, I received counseling to deal with my grief. Two years after Khaaliq’s death, I formed Mothers in Charge as another vehicle to channel my pain and find healing. It is a lifeline for me and for others who have lost loved ones. What started as two dozen women meeting in our homes has turned into a national support network of more than 1,000 in cities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, and California. Today, we have expanded our work to advocate for safe communities and prevent violence, and we go into jails and prisons to work with children and women, many of whom are survivors themselves. We know hurt people hurt people. To truly stem violent behavior, we have to address the root problems facing people who commit crimes so they can come back into our communities ready to make positive contributions. We need to revamp the current criminal justice system to provide treatment, education and other alternatives.
In 2007, Adela’s sister-in-law Laura Sanchez – a mother of four and a cherished member of the family – was killed in a random drive-by-shooting outside her Los Angeles home. Adela became a source of support for Laura’s children and went on to form L.A.U.R.A (Life After Uncivil Ruthless Acts). LAURA is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the residents of South Central Los Angeles by providing a wide-range of social services to the Latino community. LAURA also works with victims of crime to help individuals and communities turn their experiences into more positive outcomes.
In 2005, Dionne’s police officer husband was shot and killed in the line of duty. Though the shooter was convicted and sent to Death Row, the experience changed Dionne’s perspective on the justice system. She saw first hand the ineffective and costly results of investing in strategies that focus on incarceration rather than preventing crime. In 2012, she began volunteering as a survivor advocate for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and in 2014, she joined the staff of Californians for Safety and Justice, expanding her role and working with survivors to elevate their calls for smarter justice policies. She lives in Brentwood, CA.
Aqeela Sherrills is a spirit-centered activist, working to promote healing in marginalized communities and community ownership of public safety and is the National Training Director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Aqeela grew up in the Jordan Downs Housing Project in Watts, Los Angeles and at 19, he began working with football star Jim Brown and co-founded the Amer-I-Can Program, Inc. to heal gang violence around the country by negotiating peace treaties in those cities. In 1992, he and his brother Daude, along with several others, forged a historic truce between the Crips and the Bloods in Watts. When the ceasefire began to fray, the Sherrills brothers created the Community Self-Determination Institute in 1999 to tackle the overwhelming personal and social issues and trauma experienced by members of the community. On January 10, 2004, Sherrills’ 18-year-old son, Terrell, home from studying theater arts in college, was shot and killed. Determined that Terrell’s death not be in vain, Aqeela launched the Reverence Project to develop comprehensive wellness centers in urban war zones in order to introduce those who suffer from high levels of trauma to alternative healing technologies to support individuals on their healing journeys. In addition to working with ASJ, Aqeela advises the Honorable Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Mayor of Newark, NJ on his community-based violence reduction initiative, is a fellow with the Just Beginnings Collaborative, a national network of leaders and organizations working to end child sexual abuse, and serves as a partner in LOCOL, a national fast food chain bringing healthy and responsibly-sourced food to inner cities.