victim is not a dirty word

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A few months ago, a volcano erupted in my solar plexus, fueled by the Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony and my own readiness. Some words spilled over to my Facebook page, to a limited readership,  that were decidedly controversial.   I knew these words would be, but they came anyway. Sometimes things have a momentum of their own. Words that had laid, for the most part, unspoken, buried and sequestered in my memory bank for decades, but it was time.

Like many out there– some even reading here– I was a victim of sexual harassment in my early career. There had been other subtler infractions along the way, like my boss in the men’s department store when I was sixteen pulling me in the back room after hours  as he poured himself a whiskey, telling me I needed to use my body more strategically to sell suits while staring at my well developed chest.

The incident in my thirties was far more invasive, and had greater lasting effects on me as a woman, and in the professional relationship with this man which continued for nearly thirty years.

I did not name this person in my essay, because he is not the point. Me reclaiming myself is and was. Going after him wasn’t and isn’t my aim. Telling the truth of something I survived, is.

I’ve decided to rewrite this incident, in a small nutshell, to give background here to my readers to the larger point I need to make about this. I’ve taken some time to digest all that occurred after my sharing it initially. There was some minor backlash, but I survived that too.

This time, I just need to speak it a little differently:

We both know what you did was wrong. We knew it then and we know it now. 

When a therapist in a private setting, assists their patient to open up to a deep, embarrassing wound–the intimate, sexual problems they are having in their failing marriage–listens and offers support, then uses that exact vulnerable information as an opening line to solicit a weekend of sex from them a few months later, that is called sexual harassment. You did that.

I know you’ve been having trouble with your husband lately, so thought you might want to share my room with me this weekend and get sensuous, you said. Like you were offering some kind of sexual healing to me, knowing what I was going through at home.

When a boss contacts a married woman who has stated she is trying to work things out in her marriage and asks her to share a hotel room with him on the very first time they are slated to work together, that is sexual harassment. You did that.

We also both know that I came to you that day, the day we would have checked in to that hotel together, and apologized for your wrongdoing. I know, but you don’t, that I did that out of fear–fear that I may never get that professional opportunity again of working with you because I declined your completely inappropriate “proposition” as you later called it. This occurred during a probationary period and I was being evaluated, by you, for a future position when you solicited me. You accepted my apology, when you actually should have acknowledged yourself, how inappropriate your request was.

Working together for the first time, should have never included an unsolicited sexual encounter as part of the equation.

Recently, you tried to redefine this request as a simple proposition.  Including suggesting that I, myself, must have propositioned people sexually in my life, so would understand this simple, natural exchange between humans.

We never stepped in to the realm of proposition as you were my boss.  You were my therapist and teacher, as well. We were never peers and this was a work environment. You crossed every single line between us to invite me for that weekend of sex. And no, I never as anyone’s superior or therapist, have ever propositioned them sexually, to answer your question. Ever.

We both know I wasn’t your first, nor your last.

It was and still is textbook sexual harassment. Yet you were protected by my silence.

It had an impact on me, then and for years later. Both of our behavior created a genetic code that allowed you to come for me, in a different form of harassment when I resigned–the imbalance of power still expressing itself. And I apologized again for your inappropriate conduct. Another reflection of my wound.

I’ve unrung that bell and that wound has healed. But it took coming from a place of  you can no longer hurt me–personally or professionally–to have the strength to do that. My words now are not a symptom of my pain–they are a side effect of my having moved through it.

I am not afraid of you anymore. And the time for apologies has ended.

And, although I was victimized by you, I am not your victim. 

I am stronger now than I ever was under your tutelage, and made more so because of my own words. You taught me to stand on my own two feet. This is what that looks like.

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Now, readers, you understand the basis of what I’m going to talk about now.

Dr. Blasey Ford came under attack for her timing, her speaking out, her manner in which she did it–anything to shut her up, minimize her, yet speak up she did.

“Playing victim” is one term that was used to define my reality. Also suggesting I was only going public about this harassment, to “get attention”.

I guess he thought he could get me to retract the truth if he could diminish me for telling it. I’m sure Dr. Ford relates to that too.

So, today, I am here to tell you this, so listen up:

YOU CAN BE VICTIMIZED, AND STILL NOT IDENTIFY AS A VICTIM.

This is a tricky and fine use of terms, but it’s an important one. Important to me, anyway.

When I say that, I mean identify as victim in the ways that others may try to insult you with–playing the victim, always the victim, manipulating, not standing in your personal power, that kind of thing. In my observation, those behaviors are more often seen with those who actually have not experienced a great deal of victimization. That goes also for the ones who love to hurl those insults. True victims, rising, are the most badass people on this Earth.

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Believe it or not, there are others who have had pretty easy lives, who are actually jealous of true victims who have navigated lives of trauma–I’ve run in to them too. The ones who want to have something of value to write about, a testimony, a big struggle that will garner them kudos for simply existing. If they don’t have it, they will make it up (hello James Frey) or embellish their small hurdles in to just the worst thing ever! That is the kind of person who does something for attention.

Anyone who truly knows me, who truly pays attention to my life, who reads this blog, knows that I devote much of my time and energy to healing through some serious life crap. Many of you readers are drawn to me, because you are living your lives with some of the same challenges and drives. We breathe life in to each other through simply living our lives and not being destroyed.

The sexual harassment I was on the receiving end from this man pales in comparison to being a motherless child at 5, a child abuse survivor and a survivor of homicide and everything that has come with that for the last thirty years. It pales, but it did happen. And it was still not ok.

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Be careful who you are coming for, when that person has been through far worse than what you put them through.

The truth is, people are victims–of crime, of abuse, of terrible things. My sister was a victim, she will always be a victim of homicide. This does not diminish her life, and it is the raw truth about her death. I’m literally, legally, termed a victim by the State of AZ and the AZ Attorney General’s Office. I receive rights and benefits due to this terminology.

Yet, I am also victorious. I am also living my best life. As my father, who has literally known me my entire life, told my husband “I have never seen Kathy happier in her whole life than she is with you.” That was last year and it’s true. I’m happier and calmer and more content than I can ever remember. This is often the exact moment when things come up to be cleaned out. I want to have even more of this…and more yet! The releasing of this story takes me to yet a new level.

A person can also be living a very happy life and still get angry, intolerant of bad behavior and have strong things to say that don’t make everyone happy.  Keep speaking!

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I have my reasons for coming out with this ugly piece of my past, that don’t get defined by the person who victimized me, or their representatives.  I’m also glad that my words got noticed where they needed to–they were helpful, not just to me. I’m sure I’m not even aware of how much they helped others who suffered similarly, no matter where they reside on their healing path with it. This is part of the power and importance in telling one’s difficult stories. I’ve certainly gleaned strength from reading testimonials from people far more influential than me. Oprah and Iyanla Van Zant come to mind–people who certainly have risen from tragedies and abuse and have told their traumas out loud, helping others like me.

To be clear, I wrote about this because those words needed to come out of me. I did it for myself. I selfishly, unabashedly told the truth for me. And I don’t have one sliver of regret.

I had to get some distance, some healing, some introspection, some safe distance, to be able to tell the truth. Again, my speaking out was not a symptom of my trauma, as much as a side effect of my strength. Again, I think I’m relating to Dr. Blasey Ford here as well.

So to anyone feeling inclined, or pressured to try and diminish me again on this topic I say this: I have likely already recovered from far more than you will ever endure in your entire life.  Many of my readers have as well. There is no room for you here. I understand what’s motivating you, as I stood in those shoes myself. Yet, your vulnerability in this regard makes you untrustworthy for me and I will hold a boundary around this.

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We never know how or why our words ripple out or where they might land, but ignoring that splinter as it dislodges, or worse yet, trying to jam it back in, is an act of self-destruction.

It is liberating to reach a point in your life, where intimidation no longer works on you, because the eyes for the hooks are unreachable. Or maybe even gone. And there will be backlash, and it will still be worth it. And the people who fall away from their intolerance to the sound of your new voice, create space for those who think your song is the melody they’ve been waiting for.

In a final anthem of supreme irony, it was this man’s teachings that propelled me to the confidence and strength I feel right now, to speak these truths. I can separate the man from the teachings now, as the latter has been very valuable to me.  People are complicated, as are relationships. We can learn many things with and through and because of someone, and still choose to leave them because they are not healthy for us. We can even love them and still make all of those choices.

And in the leaving of this man and all that went with it, the saying no to disrespect and devaluation, set me straight up for meeting my husband who displays none of that — and I mean none of it. 

Closed doors are as important as open ones. And sometimes, the reverb from the slamming shut of one door, dislodges that stuck hinge in the next one, that has kept bright futures obscured from our newly opened eyes.

 

Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. woman standing in doorway looking out at bright sunny day, view from behind and below

indelible impressions

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I made this wildly long post on Facebook today and thought, well, shoot, may as well make it a blog post too. Copying and pasting.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about lasting impressions and indelible identifications that are left and want to open a discussion about it. Why some people, even though the relationship is filled with turmoil and difficulty, leave a lasting imprint of loving, warm memories. Then some, even though the relationship was filled with good times and love, leave an imprint of, well, not that. A darker memory, or maybe simply the unvarnished truth. How people get defined once all is said and done, and why?

Case in point, my stepmother who I’ve written about in my blog and done lots of contemplating about. She was in my life for over 30 years and it was filled with all kinds of peaks and valleys. It wasn’t an entirely negative relationship. For example, she was amazing around the time I planned my first wedding and we had lots of fun doing it. I had many interesting intellectually stimulating conversations with her as adult–I admired her opinions on politics and other things. I learned things from her. Yet, when all was said and done, the lasting imprint she has, lingering in my memory, is of the abuse that went on for years–both physical and emotional. I’m not talking about a trauma felt to my bones, although that was once there. I’ve worked through most, if not all of that by now. Much of my working through it came after I started telling the truth about it/her. I can speak about her and the things that happened now without shaking, without feeling angry, just recounting them with a sense of power that I survived them and her. But that’s how she is primarily remembered for me–as someone I survived.

I wrote about another person the other day who also left that kind of challenged indelible impression on my memory. I would say I loved that person much more than I ever loved my stepmother, but when I look back, now in a place of neutrality in my emotional field, the lasting shadow is of the unwarranted disrespectful behavior–I’ll just say it–abuse, that was levied at me. There are positive memories, but they aren’t dominant, I reach for those and they are in a more “in spite of…” kind of place. That relationship was also primarily filled with many positive experiences and joyful moments at the time. Still, the stamp left is of something else. Not feeling tone; memory and identification.

I have other friendships that may have gone by the wayside or challenged loved ones I’ve lost, but their indelible mark is from the happy memories, good times, warm thoughts.

So I got to thinking, how does this happen?

For me, I have two conclusions right now.

1. The severity and/or length of the abuse. And what it took to get free from it, if a person ever does.

But I think the second is more the chestnut of the lesson.

2. The other person’s willingness and ability to look at their role, apologize for any harmful behavior and be open to my point of view with a genuine desire to grow together from it.

In both cases I mentioned, I knew that second element would be impossible. Either I tried, I thought about the futility of trying, and/ or I had witnessed a lifetime of observing how that person operates in a field of conflict, knowing the inevitable. Some people move directly from an uncomfortable sharing in to full attack mode. This is their pattern. It’s effective, but not healing. You know these people and the futility. Observing them in other dynamics informs your own.

In essence, you know if that’s the person you can work something out with and you know who isn’t. You know the people who, the only way out of a conflict with them is to own 100% of your part with certainty they will agree with you and own 0% of theirs, even if theirs was inadvertent.  That definitely will move you out of the acuity of the conflict or standoff, but there is no real healing in that. It’s a toxic bandaid.

I will say, a sincere apology goes a very long way with me–I melt like a pat of butter on an August Arizona sidewalk. I’ve learned a lot about apologizing from people who did it well and those who have not. This is a muscle I work on flexing as I need this medicine.

Marjorie, my stepmother, used to throw in one pat sentence in to most family conflicts “I know I’ve made mistakes too” (while pointing out our mistakes).

Cindy (my sister), once confronted that and held her feet to the fire asking repeatedly “ok,what were they?”. She kept skirting the answer and the one thing she finally could come up with was “I let you children get to me”. Even her mistake, was ours. That was the one and only time I can ever remember her looking at her part in any conflict with us, or anyone else. Again, we KNOW who will work with us and who won’t.

I turned on the TV and surfed the one and only time I saw the Queen Latifah show and Jada Pinkett Smith was being interviewed. Queen asked her why she stayed with Will Smith after years of conflict and marriage. She answered so clearly and succinctly, I paused my TV and played it back several times to hear her say, “He has a sincere desire to grow.” (I’m lucky to have one of those husbands too Jada).

For me, this is at the heart of it. Where and who to invest in and how those indelible memories are created in either direction. Another wise person once said to me “you can’t go to a dry well for a drink of water.”

And I’m ok with my indelible impressions being what they are, as long as they are REAL. I’m very invested in authenticity right now.

We know. I know. You know. We always know.

What are your thoughts?

my own white privilege

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Nia Wilson #sayhername

Artist: Ruben Marquez

I am both grateful and semi-cringing at my last post on racism. Grateful because a. I got some things off my chest and b. that post pointed me toward another level, via one of my readers.

Cringing, because, after being pointed to another level, I became aware of some things inside myself, displayed in that post, that are unpleasant to look at. But I’m looking at them. These things I’m talking about, fall under the broad category of white privilege. A subject that I’m at the stage of barely learning to roll over in my crib on. I haven’t begun to crawl yet. But I am listening and learning.

I was on track, when I wrote about listening. That is a good first step. There is so much more, though. In addition to Hannah Drake, who I’ve been following and being inspired by for some time now, I was pointed to two, which has evolved to three, black women’s Instagram accounts.  I’ve been intensely following them over the last week.  They are @wildmysticwoman (Layla Saad), @rachel.cargle (those were the two I was pointed toward) and @ajabarber. There are many, many more black women teaching about white privilege there and elsewhere, but those are the women I am following and listening to right now. There is a lot to digest.

I was going through somewhat of a personal turmoil last week, so welcomed the relief of focusing on something bigger than my smallish problems (pretty sure that sentence also displays my level of white privilege). It’s also interesting that when I’m being cracked open by one thing, the light starts to come in from another source altogether.

I’m not going to go in to much about what I’m learning, but invite any of you interested to just start reading these women leaders and the wealth of information they are offering (especially Rachel Cargle’s social syllabi she has compiled). As I said, I’m just beginning here. 

It was interesting, however, that the very day I started exploring these women’s teachings and having my mind blown wide open, a bizarre drama unfolded centering around Rachel’s page and a white woman, who calls herself an activist, and goes under the handle @25park (Allison Brettschneider). I felt like I was living in my own parallel universe, reading about these concepts like white fragility, white savior complex, white exceptionalism, centering, performance activism, toxic feminism, etc., while seeing it all unfold in real time like a billboard had gone 3D and come to life. It was all right there in this woman’s highly disturbing behavior. I actually had a stomach ache for hours after reading her caustic and **I don’t even have the right words for it** comments.

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This eruption centered around black women leaders calling for other feminist leaders– particularly white feminists– to speak out about the murder about 18 year old Nia Wilson at the BART station. I’m embarrassed to admit, that I’ve been so out of touch, this was the first I had heard of Nia’s murder myself. But with what I’m learning, also unsurprising. Apparently, Ms. AB does not like to be asked to do something, because she snapped back with such–again I don’t even have the words--appalling display of everything these women are teaching about, that it almost became like a caricature but without being funny. I got, in such an immediate and deep way, what these black women are trying to teach us white women and what they deal with on a regular basis. I have to thank Allison Brettschneider for that teaching because I could have seen it if I was suddenly struck blind and reading it in braille which I do not know how to read. Even writing about it right now, I still feel disturbed. I think these feelings I’m having are transformative, because they give me a glimpse in to what black women feel on a daily basis living in on this planet.

On another planet than the one @25park lives on, Anne Hathaway, seemed to get a correct word out there in response to Nia Wilson’s murder.

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Another concept that is coming up in my diving in to these materials and listening to these women’s cries for awareness and justice and action, is that of spiritual bypassing. 

Finally a name to something I’ve been trying to articulate now for some time.

Spiritual bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs. The concept was developed in the spirit of Chögyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, which was one of the first attempts to name this spiritual distortion.
According to teacher and author Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, hiding behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.” From this link.

I have so many thoughts swirling in my head right now about this, but I’ll keep it as simple as possible.

I cannot teach something that I don’t know yet. I can’t know something by trying to teach what I don’t know to someone else. I cannot be that thing I’m trying to convince people I know enough to teach on, if I am filled with obstacles inside my being, unknown to me, that keep that very thing I think I know, from finding me. I cannot smile or positive think my way past my deeply ingrained unconscious beliefs and attitudes either.

The first step, is to feel it in my bones first. And what I’m realizing, is that my white female bones are filled with privilege that I would like to deny. It’s hard to write that.

I may not fully understand it yet, and I may never, but I know this to be true.

So I’m embarking on a quest, a quest to change. A quest to dive in to myself and see what needs clearing out, so I then can BE better in order to DO better.

I see so much nonsense right now in this “everybody wants to be a life coach” world. People who have decided they want to be somebody and make a living off of it, so they jump right to the role of teacher before they have learned anything about the thing they are attempting to teach. Marketing over learning. Destitute people in bankruptcy court thinking their way out of the trap, is teaching other people abundance techniques at the very same time. While asking them to fund them via “go fund me” campaigns. It’s insane to me. People who have never struggled in the world of relationship, much less maintained a successful one, thinking their way to finding love is teaching others about relationship skills. And so. much. marketing. The way to become somebody, is to learn the best way to market yourself, until you get there. I just can’t. The total lack of authenticity while marketing oneself as “real”.

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If I just sound positive enough, if I read enough on this topic, if I use the right buzz words and emojis laced through them in the right written patter,  if I just have enough followers, then people will pay me for my wisdom! And it’s always crumbling, of course it is.

This kind of mentality guides me right now, because, although, like in my last post, I like to think of myself as the last person on Earth who would be racist, I am wrong. It is ingrained in the fabric of my being and I am just barely beginning to learn about that. The only way, the only way, I can be a true ally in ways I may have already thought I was being, is to keep digging inside. Keep listening to these powerful teachers guiding me and letting myself be humbled and cracked open. This is an inside job first and there is no bypassing that–and guess what–black women can smell my privilege a mile away (and likely it is displayed even all over this post, even with me trying to be careful not to, I am not changed yet, I have a lot of work to do).

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When someone tells me the best way to be in support of them– which includes my own husband–the best response is to put away my ideas of what I think the best way to support them is and listen to them. Then do that to the best of my ability. Allison Brettschneider. showed me the opposite of that in neon. Don’t tell ME what to do is such a knee jerk response. It’s infuriating, even to me. I can only imagine what Rachel Cargle was feeling and the barrage of attack that came down on her. I can’t imagine really, which is the whole point.

I’ve known for decades that humiliation is valuable if it can breed humility. It would be a miracle if someone like Allison B.–who is being called out everywhere on these topics–(I would say she’s becoming a poster child for this now), could have that kind of revelation. It could change the world.

My own revelations, however, are more important right now to make the changes that can make a difference.

Layla Saad (@wildmysticwoman) just completed offering a 28 day course in White Privilege that she will be offering again in the coming months. I will be taking it. If anyone would like to join me, I will get you the information. You can start by following her on Instagram where I’m sure she will also post more information on it.

Here is an article to start with.

I’m aware, that my posting about these topics may make many of my regular readers uncomfortable. You may feel the need to unfollow me. I get that. Yet, that discomfort that you or I may be feeling, pales in comparison to standing on a subway station and out of nowhere getting your throat cut for simply being. Or witnessing that. Or knowing about it across the country, or the world, when that person looks like you and feeling your own unsafety in the world.

I just have to do this work. And I know I will stumble, say stupid things, even be offensive unintentionally in my unlearning. And I will keep pressing on.

Ok, back to listening and reading and drinking everything in and letting myself be transformed. And when it feels right, taking action, such as this post.

In the name of Nia Wilson, I write this. I say your name. #sayhername

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Artist: Kaylani Juanita

 

Racism 2

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I know I’m not alone in a heightened awareness (and a heightened sensitivity) these days around racism. I’ll just let that sentence stand alone without examples, because no one should need them. We are living in a culture right now, where racist attitudes are expressing themselves everywhere at full throttle. Not that they are new, I don’t think, but that they’ve been given permission to fly their freak flags (again) and they are creating parades with them. Even if their parade has just one participant, that racist person is marching out loud and proud.

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As a Caucasian female, I’ve prided myself on my personal lack of racist ideas and attitudes–the opposite really. I mean I’m that same girl who was the only kid in my 3rd grade class who volunteered to participate in the integration program. I was the only child in my grade level in my white suburban neighborhood who was bussed to “the black school” on my own volition. I held my hand up proudly when they asked for volunteers, and spent the next three years riding that bus, watching it cross paths with the black kids who were so “lucky” to come to the white neighborhood. I don’t know what their experiences were, but I can guess that they were less fortunate than mine in the attempts to help them be fortunate. Booker T. Washington grade school was a place where I thrived, got introduced to computers before any of the other schools did, and I was popular. It gave me a safe and nurturing environment at a time of turmoil in my homelife–when my father married the woman who started abusing us almost immediately. School was my refuge. I loved that school.

Yet, now, I feel I’m being asked to go deeper inside myself to these issues of racism–not just around me, but inside me. I’m realizing that now is a time to be humble, to be a listener-as-activist, and to learn.

I follow a very outspoken black woman online named Hannah Drake. She is a writer/poet/gardener who is guiding me in ways that she can’t imagine. She writes on her blog Write Some Shit and I encourage you out there to take a moment and check her out–maybe just start with her most recent challenge called Do Not Move Off the Sidewalk.

This is the part of the challenge that pertains to me (and maybe you):

For White people, I challenge you for the next 24-48 hours to be aware of how you treat Black people and People of Color in spaces. Do you have an expectation that Black people and People of Color should move out of your way? How many times do you insert yourself and your comments into virtual spaces because you feel it is your right without reading and listening to People of Color that have stated their truth on a particular issue? Do you speak around the Black person as if they are not in the room? Do you interrupt People of Color when they are speaking? Are you cutting a Black person or a Person of Color in line because you feel that is your right? Also be aware of how it feels to be cognizant of how your body navigates spaces and imagine how that would feel to do that at the very least for 8 hours out of each day.

I have accepted this challenge and in all public spaces, I’m noticing myself. And yes, I’m noticing that, although I don’t feel entitled to the space they are occupying, I have not been giving people of color the same treatment that I give people who look like me. It’s kind of scary to even say that out loud, but I am the subject of my own experiment, so I need to keep it objective. I notice that sometimes I simply feel like I might say or do the wrong thing, so I avoid. It’s not a fear of that person thing, it’s a fear of myself. That’s about as far as I know about it now.

So, applying this challenge, I’m confronting that fear. I’m making a point of pausing, stopping, holding a door vs rushing through it, making deliberate eye contact, smiling. Even yesterday in front of the grocery store, I struck up a conversation with two black women about the heat. They looked surprised that I stepped in to their space with my words, but they opened up to me. I am confronting an avoidance in myself that I was not even aware of before this challenge. I don’t really know what my fear is, and I may never find out exactly, but I’m willing to challenge it.

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In contemplating this further, I’ve also made a decision to shift in another certain way. I looked more deeply at another example that I encountered this week over a stupid reality show that I stupidly follow. It’s about couples agreeing to be married to a stranger (Married at First Sight). I not only watch this show, but discuss it with others on social media sometimes in a small Facebook group. This week the new season aired and it displayed the interview process with the matchmakers for selecting their couples. One gregarious black man shared, during his interview, that he was not attracted to women with darker skin than his. He said something about darker women not “melting his butter”.

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Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

A few days later, a black woman in the group brought this up for discussion. I noticed everyone chiming in with their thoughts and feelings about this disclosure–from outrage, to “everyone has a type and it’s no big deal”.  Reading through this thread, a shift happened in me.

You see, I’m a person who is often very quick to form an opinion. Some might even call me opinionated. I’m also a person who, when confronted with a challenge, is quick to seek and form a strategy to deal with it–formed of course on my opinion. What I should do, what I should say, how I should approach this thing.

I realized, reading that thread, that what I needed to do was listen. Not even form an opinion (yet) but to stop all that inner commotion and listen. Who I needed to listen to in this equation, were the people his comment affected most: the black women viewing it. My mind opened up as I thought about this discussion being their domain and if I’m invited to this party, I need to shut my damn mouth and listen to how they are feeling about it.

That led to me making that comment–that the thing I felt I needed to do was listen to how the “darker than him” women were feeling about this and learn something. Not do something, not post something, but just listen. 

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

The opening poster immediately thanked me for that perspective, then went on to educate the group (if anyone was paying attention besides me that is) about the term colorism and its roots in slavery and how this was a bigger issue than simply this man’s type. God, it’s exhausting to witness how quickly white people want to discount a black person’s historical perspective. Like “that happened then, so shouldn’t affect you now” kind of thing. I am SO SICK of reading comments like those. How about just trying to understand, that since obviously the person is feeling affected, what that means to them? Before so quickly denying their right to have the feelings they are already possessing? (that comment could apply to almost every marital argument–or any argument– by the way)

I felt a sense of relief in this awareness and decision. How about I make that my goal, at least for awhile or however long it takes, to stop forming opinions and judgments and do this or do that? But make my focus and intention to pay attention and listen. And maybe that listening will change me for the better. Then from that new place, I will know what to do.

So I’ve decided to release my fast thinking/deciding/judging/overworking mind for awhile and on these issues around racism, to pay attention to the people who are affected the most by it and deeply listen to what they are saying. Even if it is uncomfortable for me, to allow their words and thoughts and feelings to sink in to myself and see where that takes me. Maybe I can change the world by being changed by it even more deeply. That’s where I’m headed now.

I’m going to continue Hannah’s challenge indefinitely. I’m going to keep noticing how I feel and keep taking more risks in that regard. And I will see how that changes me too. Just me, one person living in a smallish town. This is my path to activism for the moment.

I’ll end this with David Whyte’s poem Start Close In. Take a listen, in his own voice.

 

Reach In #reachin

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This is a very sweet story about Anthony Bourdain that I ran across this morning. It’s about his championing for, not just people in parts unknown, but in our very heart of America.

I know I’m not the only one out there who is still very rattled by his suicide and this former Psychiatric RN, sister of a schizophrenic brother, and daughter of an often depressed father, has some things to say.

The continued posting of these “reaching out” memes and comments, although may be helpful to some, is a superficial response to this complicated issue of suicide. And, in some cases, it can make things worse for some people.

Depression with suicidal ideation has its own set of complex symptoms. Like a heart attack does–and, similarly, many of them are universal and identifiable. As heart attacks have warning signs like chest pain and pain down the left arm, so does suicidal depression.

One symptom of that kind of deep despair is that people have a clouded set of thoughts–that they truly start to believe that the world is conspiring against them and that their presence is detrimental, not only to themselves, but the world at large including their own loved ones. These symptoms become very real in their minds. They are not excuses or weaknesses or made up stories. THEY ARE SYMPTOMS OF THIS DISEASE.

One thing that can help ground a suicidal person is reminding them of this. That these thoughts are not who they are, but symptoms, just like chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack. SYMPTOMS THAT CAN PASS. Another symptom also being, that these symptoms will never pass. Do you see the drain they circle in?

One reality check I have given, even to myself, is “you are likely feeling that this is never going to end, and that is a symptom of the disease process you are immersed in right now, and even that set of thoughts is going to pass.” This helps to distance somewhat from the pervasiveness of it. Even for a second, a shift can begin, a life raft can be seen in the distance.

 Encourage them to look for change, even a change in a momentary thought or feeling–even if the change is a different kind of pain, but still pain. Change can equal movement out of what feels like a devastating stuck pit that will remain forever. The slightest change, can signal to the deep psyche that evolution is possible even when it has not registered yet to the conscious mind.

Expecting someone experiencing the throes of that kind of immobilized, pervasive symptomology–to rail against it completely and be able to reach out– is akin to asking someone in the throes of a full blown myocardial infarction to begin CPR on themself.

There is so much more than these trite “reminders” or “admonitions” to suicidal people to “reach out”. I think more has to be educated to THE REST OF US, to reach in. How to do it, what to say, when to intervene, how to intervene.

I’ve had to do it with my own family acutely for the last several years. Identify those moments when it is time to take over for them–get them in the hospital or to a doctor for medication. Not to “encourage them” but to simply sweep them up and say “we are going, now”. For both my brother and my father. Psychosis and depression have plagued my family my entire adult life. I know this world intimately. I have had to find and realize the strength to sit right there in a hospital or doctor’s office and say the words for them that they cannot say. Words like “he is hearing lots of voices telling him to harm himself” or “he is experiencing significant depression right now”. Words they were unable to utter, again, because they were consumed with the actual disease (or embarrassed, or in denial, or…).

So what if you get someone to be evaluated who ends up not hospitalized or deemed in need of that? It’s the same as if you take someone to the hospital who, may be having a heart attack, but in reality is experiencing indigestion. Ok, now you know. Now you’ve done something. Now you’ve communicated to them that they are not going to have to manage this distress alone.

And, yes, there are the Histrionics who cry wolf and have a whole different kind of mental illness issue going on, but don’t let them inhibit us and let the rest slip through the cracks. It’s pretty easy to discern these things when we are honest with ourselves.

People are often afraid to take action when mental illness is involved. I moved my brother to Arizona for that very reason–people where he was living were not taking action and he was drowning. He would not have survived it, and I could see that clearly. I could see it because I was not suffering in the ways he was. He is thriving so well right now, because he has a coalition of caring people watching him, every day. But that took years to craft and is still always being crafted.

None of us are afraid to step in and call 911 or start CPR with a person who is choking or having an obvious medical emergency. We need to get better with this when it comes to mental health. This responsibility should not solely rest on the acutely ill patient–I believe it rests more on the rest of us. We need to know more and have more encouragement to act. I’ve yet to see the memes instructing loved ones to call a suicide help line for someone they may be worried about.

Don’t get me wrong–no one is responsible for the devastating choice of suicide of another, just like no one is responsible for another person’s heart attack.. YET we need to understand it better and have deeper and more global interventions and take more steps to unburden our loved ones who are suffering before this becomes their only option. We need to find more oxygen masks, and use them. To unabashedly be unafraid to slap that right on their face and tell them to inhale. Then find people to take care of them, until they can breathe on their own again.

#reachin

motherful daughter

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“Should I be doing something for you for Mother’s Day?”, he asked.

“No, we don’t have Lil, that’s something we do with her. I’m not YOUR Mom.” I chuckled back.

I reflected on this thoughtful exchange throughout the day yesterday, on Mother’s Day. Mostly, my feeling tone with it. Did I feel I needed that acknowledgment from him, or anyone else, on that day? The answer was a peaceful “no” deep inside. And a greater relief that that type of attachment did not land in me and nest. I was exposed to needs like that for a very long time as a child.

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Mother’s Day has always been a challenging one for me. Every single one of my remembered days, it was a challenge. I’m sure even the ones I don’t remember, from the age of four and back. My mother was very sick already by my fifth Mother’s Day and gone by my sixth. Then there were the years of awkwardness with a Grandma raising us, celebrating my father’s mother’s Mother’s Day. Better than nothing and ultimately better than what was to come.

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Marjorie, our stepmother, who entered the family a few months before my tenth Mother’s Day, changed the whole deal when it came to everything Mother.  The first shift was the terminology. Our deceased mother was no longer our mother, or Mommy, as we always referred to her. We didn’t even get to keep Mommy at all. She was relegated to “First Mother” and Marjorie, our “Real Mother”. We had no choice in the matter, we were just given this instruction very early on in our relationship. I was slapped in the face repeatedly one day for not using the appropriate terminology for her in the appropriate tone. I just can’t even imagine what breeds that kind of thing.

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I don’t think any of us kids ever had any real warm feelings for Marjorie, much less a motherly connection. Not for lack of trying as we were desperate for a mother–in the sixties there were very few divorces at our age and even less motherless children by death.

With Marjorie, we were simply following the sets and layers of new rules and behavior managements she instilled into our family dynamic. But all of that is for another time. This, after all, is a Mother’s Day post. And even though Marjorie, our adoptive mother, demanded all of that structure, imposed her needs for identity on to us without our input or natural evolution, she was never my mother. Then, or now.

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She never proved that so succinctly and clearly than when she wrote my brother and I out of her Will. For no real identified reason. She willed all of her money to her nieces and nephews, making sure it was clear with the line “Kathy Monkman and John Monkman Jr. are to be specifically excluded from any proceeds”. No one ever told us, much less explained it. I stumbled across her estate documents accidentally months after she died. Marjorie, who worked so hard to claim us in life, left this world in full disconnect with us with no explanation.

Specifically excluded indeed. That line remains almost poetic to me in its description of the entire lifetime with her.

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I am in Lillian’s life for just over three years now and my biggest challenge is restraining myself from over-giving, not withholding. Living it now, makes so many things we lived through then, even further from my comprehension.

I have often said that Marjorie’s greatest gift to me was to teach me how not to be as a stepmother.

Yesterday though, those words got redefined. She did not teach me one thing about how not to be, because I simply do not have the beingness to do any of the things she did. I am relieved over and over again when I see the absence of those seeds inside myself. We sometimes don’t know where trauma roots itself, until it rears its ugly familiar head.

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It’s not in my makeup to demand anything from Lillian when it comes to me, how she feels about me, how she relates to me or identifies me.  She has taken lately to say things like “I have two moms and two dads”, which I’m ok with, and I’m ok with that changing. I’m ok with it all, because I truly love this child and am not attached to anything beyond us loving each other. I also hold deep reverence for her own mother and not confusing the issue for her. I know who her mother is and she should too, guilt-free, conflict-free. She simply should be free in this regard.

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(Some of these sentiments are why I avoid terms like “bonus Mom”. Who am I to decide I’m a “bonus”? If she calls me that, fine. It’s very important to me that she gets to determine who I am to her, and let that change and evolve and have its own trajectory throughout her entire life.)

Marjorie, for some reason I will never know, seemed to possess this wall or this emptiness or this inpenetrability when it came to love, at least with us. I never once, not in all the years she was in my life, felt the gratitude emerge from her that I feel every single day being in Lillian’s life. The gratitude of getting the chance to mother, I mean. The gratitude of that amazing gift is not something I take lightly–everything stems from that place–how lucky I got at age 55 when all seemed to be lost.

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You see, like Marjorie, I was childless when I met my husband. Not for want, and not for not trying, but for many things, not the least of which I was majorly messed up when it came to relationships. (Thank God I didn’t mate, or become impregnated, by the vast majority of men I traversed in my adult life.)

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After years of contemplating this fate, I finally came to the conclusion, that it was/is to be me to be the end of the road for the Monkman lineage–our specific family tree filled with only-children I mean–its branches are not that broad. As I will most likely outlive my brother, the line ends with me. I simply was not meant to breed. Yet, I surely wanted to mother. It was a terrible and tragic deep loss I had to incorporate in to my life, that hit me hardest when I turned 50.

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Yet, the stars aligned in midlife and I got my let-go wish in the form of this adorable three year old girl, who will likely not remember much of her life without me in it. We’ve now known each other longer than we’ve not known each other. It is one of the most natural, easiest relationships in my life.

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This mothering, I’ve decided, comes natural to me, not from my trauma and avoidance of certain ways of behaving, but from my own mother, Dorothy June Schlosser Monkman. I feel to the bottom of my soul, that my mother instilled so much good mothering in me, that no attempts to erase it, or her, were ever effective.

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We had a wonderful Mother’s Day yesterday, John and I reflecting on many things motherly throughout the day, while mothering each other with exercising together, making good food, hot tubbing, cuddling and long talks. We both have motherless pasts, so no explanations are needed. We just take care of each other now.

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At the end of the day, we Facetimed with Lillian as we always do. As soon as she saw me on the screen, her little six year old face lit up–a face my own mother never got to see in me–and she said “Happy Mother’s Day Kathy!”. It was like she was just waiting to tell me that. Those words penetrated as deep in to my heart as they could — my heart is still softening and opening and thankfully, we have a lifetime together for it all to deepen. I know this. It doesn’t happen immediately or automatically because you have adoption papers or a marriage certificate. This mother-love has a way of loving you at its own pace, healing you along the way.

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My mother’s love instilled in me, is what guides me. It’s what rises up. Not some “what not to do” manual that I lived for nearly thirty years, but what is in my heart, which, sadly, Marjorie never scratched the surface of. I was way too busy defending myself against her defensiveness. It is sad, for all of us, and for her.

I am filled with gratitude for my mother, for Lillian, for my husband and for all the people who have mothered me along the way. 

Because finally, in these later years of my life, to my awestruck surprise, I’m getting it all.

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Dear Marian

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Dear Marian,

Like you, I hesistate to address you on my blog, likely for different reasons that you hestitated addressing me. I’m sensing that you likely considered how inappropriate it would be for you to come to my “home” here, and say the things you did. My hesitation, though, is more about giving you more attention than what you are seeking for yourself. So, let me be clear. I am using you as an example. I am addressing you for the sole purpose of allowing my other readers to see what the aftermath of the death penalty is really about for families of victims. So,  your contribution is valuable.

For those who missed it, Marian made a comment on the blog here, related to a post I shared about the True Conviction show airing. In fact, on that particular post, I wrote specifically, about how the show was so healing for me to participate in, which it was. The very act of making me go through photographs and memories, opened some doors in my heart that I had been afraid of knocking on for some time. The way I was treated by the entire production team, including Anna Sigga Niccolazzi, was so respectful. And I guess on some level, after all this time, it just feels good to know people still care about Cindy. I don’t know if you even read the post you replied to Marian, but that makes your comment even more bizarre.

Here is Marian’s comment to me:

MARIAN VEENKER
Kathy, I am not sure if I should leave a reply here, but the case is near to my heart as I have been writing with Michael for 2 years now. I don’t know if he did the crime or not. All I know that he wholly believes in his innocence and that he has been treated very badly in the American prisons. Even Amnesty has made a report about it. He has been in solitariy confinement for over 25 years. If he was ever guilty he has had his punishment. Each person deserves forgiveness.
Of course I cannot or ever will be able to understand your pain and anger. All I know is that forgivess is the best healer. I wish you strength and courage and above all healing.
Marian

And this was my reply back to her, yesterday:

Marian, I do understand that there is a culture of people (usually women) who feel the need to write murderers in prison and feel sympathy for them. Some even marry sociopaths like Michael Apelt (one already did then divorced him as I understand). I do understand this phenomenon and like you cannot understand my pain, I certainly cannot understand your motivation for this attempt to save a murderer. Yet I would not ever take it upon myself to attempt to “school” you on how you, a stranger, chooses to live their life.

Michael Apelt, wearing the same European -made, size 15 Reebok tennis shoe (you do know he’s 6 foot 7 , so has an unusually large foot), stood on my sister’s face while she was still alive, leaving his foot print behind as a bruise. I guess you might think there would be another man, who purchased a unique European Reebok tennis shoe with this exact same print, who would have had a motive to kill her and lie like Michael did about “ever wearing tennis shoes because they made his feet stink”, who committed this murder. Guess that didn’t work out too well, when a photograph was discovered still in my sister’s camera, of him posing wearing those exact European made Reebok tennis shoes, of the same large size. Maybe you saw this photo on True Conviction. It was real. The jury who convicted him saw it blown up as poster sized in the courtroom. Of course he disposed of the bloody shoes, as he did his clothing, according to his other accomplice Anke Dorn.

Or a man who commandeered the car Michael was known to be driving out there in the desert that night, destroy the tires, then have those destroyed tires recovered which matched the tire tracks at the scene. I could go on and on but perhaps you would like to purchase and read the book I’m writing on the case when it comes out.

In the meantime, maybe you’d like to contact his appellate lawyers who have already admitted he committed the murder (and conspiracy) yet claim he was “mentally retarded” at the time.
Or you could choose to believe this con artist, because it seems you get something out of it.
But surely, we can both agree, that I’m not going to join you in your confusion. Keep reading, hopefully, you will learn something.

Now, this morning, I realized I have a few more things to say.

Marian, you are not the first person to barge in to my life with this kind of inappropriate and disrespectful intrusion. Several years ago, during the lengthy, expensive (ten million plus AMERICAN TAX PAYER dollars) appeal hearing to determine whether your boyfriend is mentally retarded or not, I got a knock on my door in early December. It was unusually cold for an Arizona day, so I looked at the shivering, friendly faced female standing on my doorstep holding an official looking lawyerly business card, asking about our case and invited her in. Surely, she had shown up on my doorstep uninvited and unannounced (just like you did Marian), with some kind of need to talk to me about my involvement in our case, from our side.

Shortly after this woman took a seat in my living room–my living room strewn with boxes of Christmas decorations I had just pulled out in my yearly agonizing set of decisions of whether to decorate for Christmas or not (you do remember Michael Apelt slaughtered my sister in the desert two days before Christmas, I’m sure)–I realized something was amiss. She was talking to me about sympathy for this man who had conned and destroyed the most important person in my life. Sympathy. Right around the anniversary of her murder. Kind of like you Marian. But you decided to confront me like that during another vulnerable time–right at the time the show aired displaying my grief for the world to see. Even to people like you, all the way across the globe. You saw my agony and grief and chose that to be your moment to strike, didn’t you? Just like that woman who showed up in my home. Your strategic timing, like hers, speaks volumes.

Once I figured out her motive–to try and glean my assistance for this ridiculous mental retardation hearing, I kicked her out of my home. Not before she was reduced to tears though. Maybe she had a brief moment of clarity when she saw a true victim.

Now Marian, unlike you, she was not questioning his guilt. She realized that he did commit the murder. That he did take my sister Cindy out to the desert that cold, dark night with promises of a new home “surprise” he was showing her. Instead, his brother laid in wait with a knife. That woman knew he did it, unlike you. But she thought he might be “mentally retarded”, so should be given leniency.

Let me ask you this. You think Michael Apelt has been treated poorly in our system. What do you think of the millions of dollars in legal assistance he has received at American taxpayer expense? Let me say it again: MILLIONS OF AMERICAN DOLLARS to defend him. I’m not talking about housing and food and medical care — I’m strictly talking about defense. Do you find that unfair?

Now, let me do a small amount of education for you about the man you seem so interested in believing, in terms of his “belief” in his own innocence.

Maybe you’d like to do some more digging in to his past and his lengthy rap sheet from Germany. The one that includes burglary, theft, insurance fraud, and prostitution. There is more but you get the drift. Let’s not forget, he was 25 when he slaughtered my sister in the desert, so his German crimes were committed from his teens to his early 20’s.

Do you know that, oh, about 7 other women came forward who he was conning and stealing from at the same time he married and was plotting to murder my sister? He stole money and checks from their purses and in one scheme, convinced one of them that he was dead so his brother could get money from her for his funeral. Yeah, he even sent a telegram to his brother, from the grave. I think they got a couple thousand from that lady. Then there were the Rolex dealers, all of the luxury car dealers in Phoenix and a custom home builder who came to court telling tales of these tall German brothers who had convinced them they were anything from professional athletes to pilots. Everyone believed them, they were that good. They were pre-spending the life insurance on Cindy, while she was alive and making the money they were stealing.

Then, finally, you might be interested in the copycat murder plot Michael Apelt cooked up in the jail before he was convicted. Yeah, that other inmate brought notes Michael had made, including maps, detailing how he should murder his own wife and make it look identical to how he had killed my sister, so it could throw off the trial thinking there was a copycat serial killer out there. I’ve seen those notes he wrote. He wanted another woman to be viciously taken from her loved ones to help free him–he promised his brother in another note I’ve seen that they would be out of jail soon because of his plot. He still thought he would be receiving that $400K of life insurance from Cindy and would pay this man from that.

Those are just a very few details that will be covered in the book I”m writing. You see, unlike you, I’ve read every single word about our case from police reports (including old ones from Germany), interviews (including with your boyfriend), testimony (including Michael’s which I sat through) and autopsy reports. I have all of the information which I will be sharing, including my sister’s own diary so you can understand better how she was conned by this man you so want to champion.

So, thank you for allowing me to educate people further on the aftermath of the death penalty for families. There are people, like you, laying in wait to torture us with your own twisted agendas, even nearly 30 years after the fact. 

I will end with a few pictures of my sister for you. The one your penpal stepped on the face of while his brother cut her throat. This is who she was in life. She was my everything, and the only victim here. Don’t get it twisted.

The facts

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If you are so inclined to familiarize yourself with the facts of my sister Cindy’s murder, before viewing the True Conviction show about it on Tuesday 2/13, this link lays out the sequence of facts pretty succinctly. It is from the 9th circuit’s decision that denied Michael Apelt’s ineffective counsel appeal that was getting him a new trial (denied Dec. 2017).

When you read this and the details of these sophisticated con men, remember that over 10 million tax payer dollars went to try and prove they are both “mentally retarded”. That appeal was successful for one of them. That is you and my tax payer dollars going to these Germans who never paid a dime to US taxes, and who murdered an American citizen who did.

The details start on page 5 of this link under “Facts”.

Click to access 15-99013.pdf

True Conviction trailer

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Well, the episode of True Conviction on Cindy’s case is coming up next week. They are now airing the trailer for it throughout the day on Investigation Discovery. I’m really glad Cathy Hughes’ voice and face are included because, as far as I’m concerned, this show is a long overdue honoring of her (as well as the Detectives).

I just recorded this with my phone, so please excuse the poor quality. Now let’s see if i can get it to post.

Remember, it airs next Tuesday, Feb 13 at 10pm EST on Investigation Discovery.