My youngest sister Peggy was murdered at the young age of 33 in Turlock, California.
I wasn’t at all surprised when the Poland Police arrived on my mother’s doorstep on the evening of January 18, 2003. It really was a gut feeling confirmed. Peggy had been in an abusive relationship for three years and when she finally had the courage to leave him (Patrick), he began stalking her.
He stalked her relentlessly in the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico for five months and after setting Peggy’s current boyfriend’s house on fire, she filed stalking charges and fled to California where she thought she would remain safe until her stalking trial. The trial never came to be.
Patrick murdered Peggy just a week before they went to court.
He used duct tape to bind her wrists together and put tape across her mouth so no one could hear her scream. He then took his hand gun and slammed it against her skull hard enough to produce a steady flow of blood.
Peggy was able to flee to another friend’s condo, where eventually Patrick found her hiding in a bedroom where she was calling 911.
In the end, he took his gun—shot her in the back of the head while she was trying to give the officer on the other side of the door her last messages to her family. After killing Peggy, Patrick turned the gun on himself. Both were dead by early morning on that Saturday in January.
When I first heard that Patrick had killed himself, I could only think “You coward. You took the easy way out!”
I hated him for years for taking away my sister, for taking away my mother’s youngest daughter, and for taking away an Aunt from three young nieces. I could never understand how someone could kill another human being. How could that possibly be a person’s only answer—to take another life. I wanted nothing but for him to burn in hell. And then, I went to prison.
I have been speaking out about my sister’s stalking case and murder for 11 years now–-telling the story of her abusive relationship, the stalking she endured and her murder. We talk about how stalking is a crime in all 50 states and how it happens to more than six million people in the United States every year.
I was at a speaking engagement in Lorain County, Ohio in January of 2014. After my presentation, I was approached by a woman who worked with inmates at the Grafton Correctional Institution. She invited me to be part of her Victim’s Impact Speaker series to tell my sister’s story to the inmates. I, of course agreed. I would agree to tell Peggy’s story almost anywhere that I knew I could make a difference; however, my hopes of changing the mind of inmates were minimal.
There are over 1700 inmates at Grafton and I would be speaking to 25 of them. Most are in prison for life—how much impact could my sister’s story really have on them?
When I arrived at Grafton, I was taken to the hall where I would be speaking. Young boys, old men, white, Hispanic and African American began to file in. The vacant chairs in the room all began to fill up. Some of the inmates made eye contact and said hello. Some helped set up the technology we would be using. Some said absolutely nothing. This is exactly what I had expected—they didn’t care if I was there or not.
I was in my comfort zone telling my sister’s story, even in front of 50 men in prison. And then the unexpected happened—the men were all engaged. They asked great questions during my presentation and not one of them ever looked away from me.
We talked about all that Peggy went through and I played the law enforcement training video we made back in 2003,and just five short months after Peggy’s death.
I expected nothing from these men but what I received was more than I can possibly put into words—an overwhelming feeling of love, support and understanding—all this from just a 60 minute presentation.
The men commended me for what I was doing; that I was making my sister’s voice be heard; that I should write a book and I should keep speaking.
Then, out of the audience came an unexpected question, “do you forgive him?”
I looked at that man and said yes because forgiving and understanding are all part of the healing process. Were these men seeking out this same thing—to have someone forgive them so they could heal as well? My heart poured out an overwhelming sadness for them at that moment, to know that maybe that was all they were waiting for? These men waited in line to shake my hand, thanked me for coming, thanked me for sharing my story and wished me the best of luck.
As I left I learned something about my audience. Every single man—all 50 of them— had murdered someone. These men, all who had taken someone’s life, had just given me back part of mine.
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Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson/ Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons