Ninety to Life

This is for Samantha Runnion. I didn't know you, but I know you were taken from this world too soon, and it is my fervent prayer that your death and suffering will not have been in vain.

WARNING: This might disturb you.

Yahoo! News - Slain Girl's Mom Angry at Jury

"I blame every juror who let him go," Erin Runnion said Thursday on CNN's "Larry King Live." "Every juror who sat on that trial and believed this man over those little girls, I will never understand."

In the fall of 1994, safely tucked away in my dorm room 8 hours from home, I got a phone call from The Mama. "Your sister needs you. They can't do this without you."

The detective had called her earlier in the day and explained that while they thought they could get a conviction, the case would be stronger if I would also press charges. Would I reconsider?

When my sister made the decision to press charges against the man who molested us, I told her I would support her, but I wasn't going to help. I had no interest in telling my story to judges, prosecutors, lawyers, detectives. Most importantly, I had no interest in seeing him ever again. I just wanted to keep moving on with my life.

For the most part, I've taken being a survivor in stride. Not that it hasn't affected me -- I've had issues with intimacy and trusting, but I've also been very lucky that every man I've ever been with has been extraordinarily patient with me, and I really feel like I've turned out OK. The issues I have left are more a result of my family life than the fact that I was abused repeatedly from the time I was a toddler until I was 12.

So there I was in college, knowing that I didn't really have A Choice. If I didn't help, my family would never, ever, let me live it down. Ever.

I said yes.

There was a phone call to the detective, and then a marathon meeting with him over my spring break (yup, five months later... the wheels of justice, turn very slowly, if they turn at all), where I spilled my guts and found that justice is geographical, that crime that takes place in other counties doesn't <i>quite</i> count, told them about the curtain in my brain that carefully shields me from the worst of the memories, told them about the little game he played, how he called it secret, how for years I couldn't lay on my back and look up at a tv because I was sent into a tailspin of images flooding my brain, a man between my legs, a white t-shirt, Indy car racing on the tv. How he was always touching my legs. How I didn't know it was wrong, because he was Uncle Mike, and I was supposed to be able to trust him.

I told them all that, and they told me about how the state prison system sucks, and how state parole loses criminals all the time, so they were going to prosecute him so that he would serve the maximum sentence in the county jail, and then serve a massive amount of probation so that they could really keep track of him; if he violated probation they would know quickly and throw him back in jail. If he violated parole, they might never know.

So they arrested him, and not six hours later, he was out, and I was never so scared in my life, because I thought he was coming for me. I locked the door, the window, everything, and sat in the middle of the living room, listening to every sound, certain he was coming for me.

And then it came time for him to stand trial, and I had decided that I was strong enough to tell my story in person. I don't know why I thought that -- I think it was because I was surrounded by people who were telling me I was strong enough to do it, that it would be good for me. We were dressed and ready to go, when the call came. They got a delay. The didn't know when it would be rescheduled.

I have truly lost my shit only twice in my life, and this was one of those moments. Rage spewed out of me, as the betrayal sunk in. The "justice" system didn't give a flying eff about me, my pain, the courage I had worked so very hard to summon, or the fragile threads that were keeping my brain tenuously together. I know I was panicking about something very specific, something that had to do with my aunt, who had dated this man, brought him into our lives, and who was more concerned that he get treatment than how her nieces were dealing with the consequences of a decade of abuse. My father, God bless him, tried to calm me down but his effort only served to enrage me, and I shoved my father out of my way so hard he almost fell over. I ran to my room, frantically trying to keep the threads of my brain from severing. It took a couple of hours, but eventually I got them to stay together, for a couple of more months, at least. But that's another story, for another time.

Sometime after that summer morning, a couple of weeks later, I think, they asked me to come back in to the prosecutor's office. A different prosecuting attorney was taking care of the case, they said, and could I come in so she could meet me, get to know me. I agreed, thinking, "What a nice change -- she actually wants to meet me. She must care, must be committed." I went by myself.

It started out easy enough. Get to know you questions, what are you studying in college, etc. And then the evidence questions. Again. I answered them for about 15 minutes, and then I said, "You know, I already answered these for the detective, back in March."

Shock. Surprise. Not "I know, and I'm sorry, but I need to hear it for myself so I can prepare the case adequately." No, I got "You did?" She picked up the file in front of her, apparently for the first time. As it dawned on me that she hadn't even read through the case file, I began to get sick to my stomach, and a voice inside said "Leave. Now." So I left, and told my mother that nothing was worth this stress, and that they would get to further cooperation from me. The detective apologized profusely to my mother, explaining that he didn't even know the attorney had spoken to me. He wanted to talk to me, to smooth things over. I told them to go to hell.

Still, I held out hope that justice would be served. I was told that it was a lock -- he admitted to abusing me. Now it was just a matter of the sentence.

On the day they sentenced him, I went out to lunch with my mother and two friends, just to keep my mind off it. It didn't work of course, and as I remember it, there was a rather heated and uncomfortable discussion that left me more upset than before. I can't remember if this was before or after I lost my shit for the second time, the more serious time that left me wandering in the basement trying to remember how to get dressed. At some point, though, they called. He was sentenced to six months, with something like three years probation and Megan's Law registration and all that.

He served 90 days. When they let him out, I didn't panic. I got very, very angry, wanting to confront the judge who let him out, who believed it was an adequate punishment for a crime that can haunt me at any given moment, for a crime that still makes me avoid certain public places, like Continental Airlines Arena, where he had season tickets to the Devils and Flemington Raceway, where he had box seats.

I guess he served probation. I don't really know. I do know that I have an unlisted number and a standing restraining order and a fear of white Chevy Monte Carlos, and that I when I bought a Monopoly game a couple of months ago, I threw away all the "You won $50 in a Beauty Pageant" cards, because he used to give me $100 for that and tell me I was beautiful.

And I know that I feel a little bit of this mother's pain, because the justice system failed her daughter when it failed those other little girls, and that every day the so-called justice system is failing our women and our children, while the politicians parade about, fluffing their feathers and talking about being "tough on crime". They could start by ensuring that when a person is convicted of a crime, the only way they get out before the sentence is over is if the conviction is overturned, and that when a sexual predator is convicted, they NEVER get out, because I do not believe you can rehabilitate someone who preys on children, and sexual crimes against children are crimes that never go away in the mind of the survivor.

I know life is not fair. I know this, and I count my blessings that I have been able to survive my experiences mostly intact, with my life, with the ability to engage in relationships and intimacy in ways that countless survivors cannot. With the mounting evidence, though, that conditions like fibromyalgia can be linked to traumatic events that have permanently altered the brain, I know there is no justice. He got 90 days, and I got life.