Healing is a journey that I have been on for over fifty years (it’s a lifelong process for some). Early in my life I played on both sides of the fence, and by the grace of God I found inner strength, people who loved me enough to give me support, advice, and forgiveness to Courtesy of CDCR See Phones on Page 6 move forward. I only mention this so that you will have a better understanding of my thought process.
Frank was murdered in 1972. He was my best friend — like a brother. Frank was the oldest sibling of two sisters and three brothers. His father was not in their lives. The family lived in the projects. Frank played the role of father/brother to his siblings, and he was loved and respected by all who knew him. He was extremely bright (never knew why he wanted to hang out with a guy like me). Frank’s goal was to become a physical therapist. I was his best man at his wedding, and he was going to be my best man at my wedding. He was a non-violent young man with a strong faith in God.
My life at that time was shaky — it’s like I lived two lives. I was a student at the local City College and a member of the boxing team as well as the track and cross country teams. I was also a competitive boxer under the US Boxing Amateur Athletic Union (79 fights). I had excelled in all three sports. The other part of my life, at the time, was drinking and excessive aggression toward others. It was easier for me to fight than talk. I had little to no coping skills (something I didn’t learn growing up).
On August 4, 1972, Frank, his wife, my fiancée and I went to visit my brother, who had been recently released on parole. At the residence there was another young man who had also been recently paroled around the same time as my brother. Shortly after we arrived, for some reason, the young man rubbed me the wrong way. We argued and it escalated. In short, I allowed my “bullet proof” mentality, pride, and machismo to control my thoughts, words, and actions.
I taunted him until he eventually pulled out a gun and pointed it at me. I became more angered, turned my back on him, and told him he didn’t have the nerve to pull the trigger. The next evening my brother and his partner showed up at my fiancée’s and my engagement party. I told my brother he could come in but his friend had to leave (for obvious reasons). I argued with my brother’s friend until Frank came outside and told me to go inside, that he would talk to the guy. No sooner did I go inside the house than I heard a gunshot.
I ran outside and saw Frank lying on the ground, bleeding. He died the next day in the early morning, My instinctive thought after Frank died was to seek “street justice.” I looked for the young man until he was arrested two or three days later. The other thought that kept going through my head was that “if someone can’t hurt me, because I’m not afraid of death, they will hurt someone I love, which would hurt me far more.”
Death by murder, in my opinion, is the most difficult of all traumatic events to process. It’s more complicated because it involves many emotions including hate, revenge, anger, and survivor’s guilt in many cases. It leaves a deeper scar in our heart, and I can only imagine the pain and horrors our loved ones must have felt as they left this world and their loved ones left behind. Death of a loved one, especially by murder, can bring the best, or the worst, out of those left behind. In my situation, it brought the worst out of me.
The lowest point of my life was when I came home early in the morning hours, drunk, I sat in my car drinking, listening to music that reminded me of Frank. I allowed my thoughts to lead me to a dark place where my hardened heart turned on me. I took my gun out from under my seat. As I sobbed like a little boy, I played Russian roulette. God rejected my life.
I continued to cry like I had never cried before. I also was dazed and wondered why God had denied me the peace I was searching for. Many of us who have hit rock bottom eventually find courage, self-love, self-forgiveness, purpose, hope, compassion, love for God, and empathy (for self and others). Our gift for overcoming what we thought was impossible is a new heart (a new and better life).
Frank’s death made me face my mortality and challenged my “bulletproof” mindset. Eventually, I allowed God to come into my life. I dropped my pride and accepted help from those who cared and loved me (later I made the best out of the worst).
The list below shows other ways Frank’s death impacted my life:
- Fear of getting close to others for fear of losing them my
- I sabotaged many of my relationships, including my first marriage• Survivor’s guilt
- my brother also shared this feeling• Hate in my heart — no room for love
- Alcohol abuse — trying to self-medicate to cover the pain•
- Feeling of unworthiness•
- Suicidal ideations•
- Nightmares — I would dream at times watching Frank being shot and feeling helpless (as well as other nightmares)
- Lack of trust of people in general
- Depression — I would occasionally sit in darkness, drinking a beer, listening to oldies/ Motown music and, thinking of the old days, become depressed…this was my way of honoring Frank
- Feelings of edginess/anxiety/quickness to anger (I was diagnosed with PTSD)
- Regret — if I could go back, I would do it different (day of Frank’s death)
One of my barriers in healing was my lack of courage to see who I had become and the self-destructive path I was on. I was also too prideful to seek help. My thoughts also told me that if I received any “head treatment,” it would weaken my mind so I wouldn’t be able to protect myself (fight). I didn’t see anything wrong with me. I thought everybody had the same thoughts that I had. Further, I had no resources to turn to even if I wanted help. Justice to me means having compassion and empathy for those impacted by the justice system. Today, more than ever before, the inequities of people of color have come to the forefront of what reforms need to be made to make things right. I believe that one of the most effective tools that helps bring justice for the victim and awareness of the impact of victimization is Restorative Justice.
There are three pillars of Restorative Justice:
- Harms and Needs: who was the harmer, what was the harm and how can it be repaired?
2. Obligations: Who is responsible and accountable and how can she/he repair the harm?
3. Engagement: Victims and Offenders have an active role in the justice process.
I have been a volunteer for Restorative Resources for over seven years and have witnessed the powerful positive impact it has on all involved. Speaking the truth, and from your heart, will make a big difference the majority of the time. My greatest source of my strength has been my faith in God, as well as the birth of my daughter. My wife has also been my source of strength, my cheerleader, my inspiration, my moral compass, and my rock. My wife convinced me to seek therapy. EMDR is a treatment that helped me enormously.
I am a survivor of two other murders; my younger brother and his son (my nephew), 18 years apart. I witnessed my brother and two nephews, each time they were paroled, come out the same (no changes) or more damaged. My other nephew died from his addiction around one month prior to my nephew’s murder. All three of them had early educational challenges and never graduated from high school. They also all had childhood trauma, mental illness, and drug addiction.
My brother and nephew (the one who died from his drug addiction) had both served lengthy sentences. All three were heavily involved in gang life. It seemed to me that common sense would prevail throughout the criminal justice system, that these risk factors should be addressed while incarcerated, during re-entry, and followed up while on parole.
There are many studies that show that persons who are incarcerated for lengthy periods of time tend to have a higher level of mental illness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 2019, 65% of inmates released from California prisons were returned within three years. (The average CDCR recidivism over the years has been over 50 percent.)
In essence, we don’t need longer sentences, we need CDCR to create a policy that will provide effective programming for all inmates who have the risk factors noted, and that the programming be facilitated by qualified providers. We also need policy to implement early intervention for youth with childhood trauma, mental illness, and addiction.
Further, parents should be offered services when their children have risk factors early on that could hinder that child from becoming the best person God intended them to be.
I have a few things that I do if I am triggered or start to feel down:
- Pray and meditate on the scripture words
- Read or write poetry and read affirmations
- Hit my punching bag and shadow box
- Walk and talk with my wife
- Check my negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
- Count my blessings for the things that I’m grateful for
- Service others
- Watch a funny or inspirational movie
Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and to make a difference.
“We are not defined by our past; our future is determined by the choices we make today.”