Bill Cosby: When Justice Catches Up With A Celebrity

 

Beverly Hills Hotel 100th Anniversary Weekend - Bill Cosby Hosts Evening Of Comedy And Jazz

 

Indulge me while I bring you back to one average evening in the McLeod household circa 1985. Actually, I can say with relative confidence that it was February 6, 1985. I was four years old, and I had an epic meltdown that night. Many of you are probably shocked that I can remember the exact day I had this meltdown, but I was able to narrow into the date because it was the night former President Ronald Regan gave his State of the Union address that year.

 

Normally, four year olds have meltdowns about regular four year old things like not getting that piece of candy they wanted, not wanting to go to bed, etc. Four- year old Cappuccino Queen, however, was having a meltdown because the Cosby Show was being bumped from Primetime lineup because of this State of the Union Address. When I realized that no amount of crying and screaming could bring Bill Cosby back to my screen, I sat imagining that President Regan could see the terrible stink eye I was giving him.

 

I know this is a long- winded intro, but I can’t really begin to describe how much I loved the Cosby Show. To a four -year old brown girl, who lived in a neighborhood and went to a school where she was the only person of color, I loved watching a black family on television. I loved that Mr. Bill Cosby looked like my Dad (well, only in color really), and that Rudy was roughly my age. The Cosby show was the one show that everyone in my family seemed to enjoy, and we would all gather to watch it.

 

Fast- forward nearly 31 years, and these are the headlines that I am seeing come across my news feed:

 Audio of Bill Cosby Joking About Drugging Women Resurfaces

Bill Cosby’s Silence on Rape Allegations Makes Huge Noise

Internet Rage Pushes ‘America’s Dad’ Bill Cosby off His Pedestal

After reading these most recent allegations that Cosby sexually assaulted over 14 women, that rosy childhood image that I had of him wilted on the spot.  It felt similar to the time I was told that Santa Claus didn’t really exist, but much worse because it tarnished what was a positive image of the black family.  Sure, I know the character in the show wasn’t really the man in real life, but I still wanted to believe that this man who played such an important character for the times was also a good man in real life.

After reading through some of the stories and comments from Cosby’s victims, I felt continued disgust for our flawed legal system.  I also felt a connection with these women who have been fighting against a system that doesn’t want to believe that some men (especially financially powerful ones) are capable of rape.  One of the most high-profile accusers, Barbara Bowman, a married mother of two, claims Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her beginning in 1985 when she was a 17-year old aspiring actress.  She has continued to tell her story over and over for the last decade.  The Washington Post published an essay by Bowman with the explosive headline: “Bill Cosby raped me. Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story?”

Bowman wrote that she was emboldened to tell her story after Constand went public with her accusations:

“When Constand brought her lawsuit, I found renewed confidence. I was determined to not be silent any more. In 2006, I was interviewed by Robert Huber for Philadelphia Magazine, and Alycia Lane for KYW-TV news in Philadelphia. A reporter wrote about my experience in the December 2006 issue of People Magazine. And last February, Katie Baker interviewed me for Newsweek. Bloggers and columnists wrote about that story for several months after it was published. Still, my complaint didn’t seem to take hold.

“Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest. The original video of Buress’s performance went viral. This week, Twitter turned against him, too, with a meme that emblazoned rape scenarios across pictures of his face.”

While Cosby maintains that he is innocent, and claims that he has never been in trouble with the law, these countless allegations seem to paint a different picture.  To me, one of the most disturbing parts of this story is the fact that this allegedly began over 30 years ago, yet Cosby remains a free man never having had to account for his behavior.  Only now, is he really receiving any amount of public shame.  I speak a lot about how our justice system has a way of failing its victims, but this is a very clear example of how when prosecutors turn their backs on these types of cases, it only emboldens criminals into continuing to commit vile acts.

If someone had listened to Bowman 30 years ago, how many women could have been sparred the emotional and physical scars?  It is high time that we (as Americans) start taking a stand against this type of behavior.  Women and men need to start taking this more seriously.  14 women shouldn’t have to come forward pointing their finger at a high profile celebrity before people start to believe that he could be a vile rapist.

Despite the realization that Cosby is not the man 4-year old Cappuccino Queen wanted him to be, I am still thankful for the producers who chose to show a black family during those times.  That said, I will no longer show my support for a man who is clearly not deserving of the pedestal that so many of us placed him on.

Mr. Bill Cosby, I am ashamed of you.  I hope and pray that you get exactly what you deserve, and that justice finally catches up with you.



 

 

 

 

Things My Children Have Taught Me

Stelapig

 

Just over a year ago, I gave birth to my daughter.  Those of you who follow my page regularly also know that just over two years ago, my son Prince was murdered.  While this blog is certainly not a Mommy blog, this week I would like to take some time to reflect on what being a parent has taught me.  In the three and a half years since I became a parent, I have learned more than I could have ever imagined.  Both of my children have taught me things that I couldn’t have learned had they not chosen me as their mother.  I hope this post helps you to reflect on what the children in your life have taught you – whether you are a parent, an older sibling, a grandparent, an aunt/uncle, or a friend.

Unconditional And Limitless Love:  From the moment I felt Prince kick me, I knew that my life would never be the same.  I fell in love with him before I even met him, and my love for him seemed to just grow as the days passed.  Before I got pregnant with my daughter, I wondered if I would be able to love that way again, especially after such a terrible loss.  My son taught me how a child can deepen how you love, and my daughter taught me there are no limits to how much you can love someone.

Tolerance For Nasty:  When I was a kid, I thought I would want to be a doctor.  This thought was rooted purely in my desire to help people, and I had not considered the nasty factor.  As I got older, I realized that other people vomiting in front of me would make me sick and blood freaked me out.  In my 20′s, after a coworker threw up in my car after a party, I realized that I was never meant to deal with that level of nasty.  Then, I had children.  Both of my children have gotten me over my fear of nasty by forcing me to handle snot, explosive poop, spit up, and vomit on a near regular basis.  When your child is sick, there is no time to freak out about them pooping on you.

The Power of Dance:  In the interest of full disclosure, I am a terrible dancer.  To make matter worse, I had to grow up as a half-black girl whom everyone assumed must be able to dance because I was brown.  I felt like an asian person who was bad at math.  Because I was never good at dancing, I stopped doing it for fear of the extreme judgement I would get when it was clear that I had not gotten the rhythm gene. Then, I had children.  Both of my kids love to dance.  Prince would break out into what I called his “monkey dance” any time he heard music, and sometimes even when the music was just playing in his own head.  His sister Stela is equally as infatuated with dancing.  The two of them has taught me that regardless of how ridiculous you look when you dance, dancing brings happiness.

Appreciation of The Little Things:  Before kids, I didn’t fully appreciate the value of a warm cup of coffee.  Sure, I loved coffee before kids; however, there is nothing like the feeling you get when you have the time to enjoy your coffee while it’s still warm.  I have also learned to appreciate moments of quiet, or the rare afternoon nap that I actually get to take with my daughter (usually this is the time when I am cleaning up after her or rushing to get other things done).  Not having as much time to yourself makes you truly appreciate things like enjoying a nice meal, or drinking coffee in peace.

You Don’t Need As Much Sleep As You Think:  When I was in college, I would frequently complain about sleep deprivation.  I didn’t realize, though, that what I felt back then was just the tip of the iceberg.  After pulling an all nighter for that chemistry exam, I could come back to my dorm and pass out for hours before I needed to be anywhere.  Now, after being kept awake all night with the baby, there is no opportunity to just sleep until my next exam.  You can’t skip class on your baby.

Life Is Full Of Magic:  Having children makes everything seem a bit more magical.  One of my favorite things about being a parent is watching my children experience something for the first time.  The joy they both got when they took their first steps, smelled a flower for the first time, or had a taste of a sour lemon.  Children live life to the fullest.  If people never lost the ability to do this, there would be so much more joy in the world.  Having children, has allowed me to experience that magic again.

Faith:  I saved this one for last because it is one of the most powerful lessons I have learned from my children.  I didn’t get a chance to see my son grow up.  He didn’t have as many firsts as he should have because he didn’t even live long enough to have a second birthday.  That said, that child showed me that everyone has a purpose.  I truly believe that he came on a mission, and he chose me as his mother.  After having my daughter, there are moments when I see her do things that make it seem as though she had long discussions with Prince in heaven before coming here.

I talk a lot on my blog about my vehement disgust for those who abuse children.  It is hard for me to understand why someone would treat someone who is able to bring so much joy – so poorly.  Being a parent is not easy.  Loving someone so deeply can be terrifying, and many people are put in a position (as I was) where they are not legally allowed to protect their children.  Though it hasn’t been easy, I wouldn’t change it for the world.  Knowing Prince for even 15 months made me a better person, and a better mother.  Getting the chance to raise his sister has made me the happiest version of myself I have ever known.

I have two children – one is my angel in heaven, and the other is my angel here on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

False Pretenses And The Dangers Of Online Dating

 

online dating

This past Monday, Luc was charged with another felony – False Pretenses.  While this charge was related to falsifying information on the life insurance application he took out on my son, I couldn’t help but think that Luc’s entire life has really been based on many False Pretenses.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I met Luc via match.com.  At the time, I was pushing 30 and ready to settle down.  I had just relocated to the DC area, and was interested in meeting people outside of my current circle.  While on some level I had heard negative reviews of online dating, I had decided that I was going to be all in and remain optimistic.  ‘I will know if someone is lying to me once I meet them,’ I thought confidently.  ‘It will be so obvious if something is wrong with them from the first date,’ I said to myself naively.

While Luc never wanted to admit we met via Match.com (possibly because he had used it in the past to target women), I have no shame in admitting that is how I met him.  In fact, I think online dating is one of the most dangerous ways to meet someone.  Sure, there are tons of normal people who have met their current partner via a dating site, but there are also all sorts of predators online.  The Internet is a scary place full of all sorts of smoke and clouds.  It is very easy for someone to completely reinvent themselves, and hide behind the virtual curtain long enough to be dangerous.

So this week, I wanted to lay out some reasons why I will never on-line date again.  For those of you who want to try it out, keep in mind the below when you are meeting people so that you can go into this arrangement with your eyes completely open.

1)  The Profile Trap:  On just about every dating site, the dater is encouraged to write something about themselves.  People will write what they want others to know about them, and dishonest people can use their profile to lay the groundwork for a complete sham.  After reading someones profile, you might get the false impression that you know that person, even before you meet.  Much of the information that people put on their profile cannot be vetted, nor is it common for people to vet information before the first date anyway.

2)  Connections Prior To Face To Face:  A lot of people feel more comfortable speaking to someone on the phone or talking to them online well before they meet them.  While in some ways, this might make sense.  This practice ended up being dangerous for me.  After speaking to Luc on the phone, and through emails, I felt as though I had already invested some emotions before I was able to see him in person.  I remember the moment I laid eyes on Luc.  As soon as I saw him, I got an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me want to run screaming.  He didn’t look anything like the picture he had given me, and something felt wrong.  That said, I had spent so much time talking to him, I felt invested enough to continue the date.  If I hadn’t felt this sort of investment, I wouldn’t have thought twice about just ditching out on the date and never contacting him again.

3)  Degrees of Separation:  One of the things that drew me to online dating was the fact that I wanted to meet people outside of my circle.  That said, it would have been much safer had I stayed in my circle.  Meeting people through friends gives you a natural vetting mechanism.  Luc, on the other hand, would never have run in my circles.  He would never have worked with anyone I knew (because he didn’t work), he never would have gone to school with anyone I knew (because he was a high school drop out from out of state), and he never would have met any of my friends through any hobbies (because he played video games all day).  Because we didn’t have anyone in common, I was completely reliant on “vetting” him through the people he presented to me (see number 4).

4)  Third Party Deceit:  I remember explaining to a friend how comfortable I was with online dating.  One of the things I was comfortable with was the idea that after meeting someone, I could always insist on meeting their family and friends.  Surely, if you meet family and friends (all of whom rave about how great the person is), that has to say something right?  WRONG.  Luc presented an entire fake family to me.  I went to their home, and they claimed to be his aunts, uncles, and cousins.  They told me stories that backed up what Luc said he did for a living.  After I left Luc, I came to learn that these people had no relation to Luc and currently don’t have any contact with him.  In addition to a fake family, Luc introduced me to several attorneys.  These attorneys claimed that they were his business attorneys.  This helped him uphold the story of being gainfully employed.  None of this was actually true.

 

Most dating sites don’t do anything to verify the information that someone puts in their profile.  While you can meet a psychopath anywhere, before you enter the online dating world you should understand the risks associated with this venue.  You should also know that many dangerous people use internet dating to troll for new victims.  If you meet someone in person who has clearly misrepresented themselves (i.e. put someone else’s picture online, etc), don’t feel bad just walking away.  And if you ever get the impression that their story doesn’t seem to match up, it is probably because they are not telling you the truth.

I understand my story is one of the more extreme stories.  The man I met online was a walking false pretense.  Before I met him, however, I was one of the people who believed I would never end up being that girl from that terrible lifetime movie.  Now, I realize the only difference between me and that girl is that my story hasn’t been on Lifetime yet.

 

 

 

I Blamed The Victim, Too – Until I Became One

 victim-blaming

 

“Mother Teresa would never marry Saddam Hussein.”

These words were spoken to a friend of mine in reference to me after the death of my 15-month-old son, Prince McLeod
Rams , during a panel discussion on family court. Four years ago, I would have believed the same thing. Since then,
I have learned that Mother Teresa is exactly the kind of person who ends up with Saddam Hussein.

Growing up with Christian morals, I believed that everyone was capable of good. I was taught not to judge a person by his
appearance. So when, in 2010, Joaquin Rams walked into my life, I was vulnerable to deception. Yes, he dressed like a thug,
looked much older than he claimed and was full of mystery. But he was also charming, intriguing and had such an intense look
in his eyes that he made me believe he was my soul mate. He told me he was a self-made businessman who was caring for his son
after the child’s mother died in an accident. In hindsight, his story appears to have been custom designed to appeal to me.
I wanted to believe what he said, and he knew it.

Abusers don’t start emotionally terrorizing someone on the first date. No one just comes out and tells you he is living off
the insurance proceeds and death benefits of women who have died violently around them. Psychopaths – as one forensic psychologist who testified on my behalf in court labeled Rams – are often charming and charismatic people who can talk their way through almost anything.

After I fought unsuccessfully for over a year to prevent Rams from having unsupervised access to Prince, my worst nightmare
came true: On Oct. 21, my son drowned during one such visit with his father. Three months later, Rams was arrested and charged
with Prince’s murder. Shortly after his arrest, it was reported that Rams had taken out over $560,000 in life insurance on
Prince. On insurance forms, court documents show, Rams claimed I had died in an “accident.”

(Note:  Rams has claimed that he is innocent of these charges, and is currently awaiting trial for Prince’s murder in Prince William County, VA)

This was all devastating enough, but as the details of the case seeped into the media, I got another shock: Many people blamed
me for allowing all this to happen. Most of this was behind my back, but some of the bolder ones came right out and asked
how I could have gotten into a relationship with such a person. Once, I was berated by a police captain for making “poor relationship choices.” I left the station in tears.

At first, I was stunned by this reaction, but as time went on I was able to think more critically about my situation. The
truth is, before meeting Rams, I could have made the same sort of victim-blaming statements. I, too, judged the victims of
domestic violence. I, too, believed that I could never be a victim. I was too intelligent, too educated and too savvy for
that.

I believed this until the day I looked in the mirror and realized that I had become a victim myself.

It shouldn’t be necessary for the tables to turn so horribly for someone to see this common attitude for what it is. This
misplaced blame undoubtedly hurts the victims, but it also helps offenders. They count on society blaming the victims, because
it focuses the attention away from their disturbing behavior.

When Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who imprisoned three young women in his home for years, made his notoriously self-justifying statement in court, his attempt to deflect guilt did not surprise me. He was simply repeating, albeit in an exaggerated way, sentiments that pervade our culture.

The day my son died was the worst day of my life. In the days following his death, I wanted to jump in the casket with him
and die, too. I blame myself every day for not disobeying court orders to protect Prince, for trusting Rams, for naïvely believing
I could never be a victim. This blame, however, is not going to bring Prince back. And it isn’t going to get him justice.

As I stood over Prince’s casket, I read him Dr. Seuss’s “Oh Baby, Go Baby,” one of his favorite books. I read about how he
would someday move mountains. Then, as the harsh truth set, my tears fell onto his body. I placed the book in the casket with
him, and made him this promise: “Mama will make sure you still move mountains. I will fight for justice so that your story
saves others.”

The promise I made to Prince will not be easy to fulfill. To prevent this sort of tragedy from happening to other children,
the tendency in our society to blame the victim must change. Addressing the attitudes of some family court judges is a good
place to start, but the problem goes much deeper – it lurks in the decisions of mental health professionals, law enforcement
officials and social workers alike, dangerously clouding their judgment and creating life-threatening situations outside of
the courtroom.

It is not comfortable to face these judgments while trying to change the system. But for as long as I live, I will continue
to tell my son’s story and continue to fight for children’s rights. I will do it for my son and the children who will come
after him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Another Survival Date

prince   Two years ago, on October 21st 2012, I held my son in my arms as his heart stopped beating.  Just a few days ago, I sat in a Prince William County Courthouse and saw my son’s killer for the first time in nearly two years.  Many people expected that I would get some sort of sick pleasure out of seeing my son’s killer look like a demented serial killer out of a 1980′s cheaply made horror film; however, seeing him in that state only made my skin crawl more.  Possibly worse, however, was having to sit in front of Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman as he exclaimed how “juicy” he believed the story was on my son’s murder. His crass behavior was, in part, a sure attempt to get under my skin; however, in the two years since my son’s murder, I have often cringed at how callous many people connected to the case have been. Today, on this anniversary of his death, many people have wished me and my daughter well.  I appreciate all the love and support that my friends, family, and readers have shown me throughout the years.  I am reminded, though, on days like today just how many other people have been forced to live through terrible tragedies.  I am reminded of the choice I made two years ago – to live so that a piece of my son could keep living inside of me.  For those of you who were not following my blog a year ago, I want to share with you my post from this time period last year.  I hope this will help people understand how I view this day.  And I hope that my choice to spin a negative day into a positive one will entire others to do the same.


This past weekend (October 20th and 21st to be exact) marked the one year anniversary of the worst two days of my entire life.  While I am still relatively young, I am willing to bet that October 20-21, 2012 would have been considered astronomically bad by anyone’s standards – and even that seems like an understatement.  For those of you who don’t know, October 20th last year was the day that I found out my son had been murdered by his father.  It was the day I learned that I would never again see my little boy open his eyes, give me a hug, or say “Mama”.  All of my hopes and dreams for him shattered in that single moment.  A year later, I write this post reflecting over the past year.  I received more messages this past weekend from people telling me they were thinking about me than I received on what would have been Prince’s second birthday (which to me was a more difficult milestone).  My response to everyone who sent that message went something like this: “Thank you for your kind words.  Today is not a bad day though.  I will not be spending it thinking about the worst day of my life.  I don’t care to celebrate or commemorate this day.  I refuse to allow a date that a demonic man chose to terrorize me for the rest of my life.  This day was not a good day for my son and it was not a good day for me.  I do, however, see it as a day that marks strength.” Many people seemed confused with my response.  Maybe they were expecting me to curl up into a corner, and spend the two days crying as I forced myself to relive the nightmare that occurred just one year ago.  While I could have chosen that path, and I would not judge someone else who did, I continue to choose survival.  So instead of curling up into that ball and crying, I thought about all the things and people who have gotten me to this place of strength.  I will never say that the path I have taken in the last year should be followed by everyone who has endured tragedy, but it was my path and if my words can help someone then it is worth sharing. 1)  Find your people:  I put this one at the top of my list because without my friends and family I know I wouldn’t have survived this past year.  When my son died, everyone who knew him was devastated.  It rocked my family in a way that a family should never be rocked.  That said, many of my family members were able to rally around each other and we gave each other the strength to keep living.  In addition to my family, I learned who my true friends were.  As soon as I sent out the text message that my son was dying, several of them dropped everything and drove to the hospital just to be there with me.  One of my oldest friends got on the next plane from Louisiana to visit.  She listened to me, sat with me while I cried, made me laugh when I didn’t think I would again, and cooked when nobody seemed to have the strength to even think about food.  When chaos and tragedy strikes, find your people. 2)  Clean house on the toxic folks:  Throughout life its never a good idea to allow toxic people to hang around.  This is especially important during the hard times.  I found that there are some people who enjoy chaos.  They will gravitate around you during these times and make you feel worse.  If you find that someone is making you more sad or appears to be feeding off of your bad situation, drop them like a bad habit and move on.  In the past year, I have made no apologies about getting rid of bad people.  For example, two weeks after my son died, someone who I thought was a friend told me that I needed to “just get over it and stop talking about how angry and upset I was about what happened.”  After that conversation, I promptly told this person to lose my number and I truly believe I am better off because of it. 3)  Grieve your way:  In the past year, I can’t even count the amount of times people have tried to tell me how to grieve for my son or passed judgement on me for decisions I have made.  Many of these people have never lost a child and seem to project how they think they would feel if in my situation.  Recently, one of my coworkers lost his son tragically to a brain aneurism.  The child was six years old and he was devastated.  He asked me what he should be doing.  I told him that he needed to do whatever he felt he needed to do and that he shouldn’t let anyone tell him that what he chose to do was the wrong path.  That said, I would advise someone against doing something that was hurtful to themselves or others. 4)  Don’t be afraid to go to therapy:  Admitting that you need to see a therapist shouldn’t be seen as a weakness.  If a person broke their arm and just decided that surgery or casting it wasn’t for them, they would end up with a jacked up arm for the rest of their life.  If you find yourself in an emotionally unstable place, sometimes you just need to seek medical help and talk to a therapist.  I am not ashamed to say that after Prince died (and while I was in the throws of the custody war), I have seen a therapist regularly. 5)  Take back your happy:  Ever since I met Luc in February 2010, my life has been in some level of chaos.  He has tried to control and torment me.  While I believe he killed my son primarily for money, his secondary motivation was likely to destroy me.  He chose the first time he saw Prince after my birthday as the day he would drown him.  He intended for that day to make me sad for the rest of my life.  I will always miss my son.  I will always hold a certain sadness about the fact that he will never grow up and do the things he should have been allowed to do.  I will not, however, allow the man who killed him to destroy me.  I chose to take back my happy.  I chose to do this for myself and for my daughter. Finally, I leave you with one of the wisest things I heard after my son’s death.  I was speaking to the priest at my church.  I asked him why so many Christian people were telling me that in order to have peace I needed to forgive the man who killed my son and all of the people who allowed my son to be killed.  I asked him if I needed to forgive these people before finding peace.   Father John looked at me and said, “Hera, hold onto your anger.  It is that anger that will help get your son Justice.”  Father John went on to explain that forgiveness should be reserved people who can understand forgiveness.  It was clear that Luc had no soul.  Forgiveness would simply allow him to feel absolved for what he did, and possibly even allow him to continue to torment me.  So I will not be forgiving Luc.  It is a waste of my energy –  energy that should be used on happiness.  While I don’t forgive him, I also don’t dwell on him either.  I stayed angry for as long as I needed to in order to get the wheels of justice to turn. I would never tell someone else NOT to forgive someone who has hurt them.  I simply offer you an alternative.  If forgiving the person who has hurt you allows you to heal, then do it.  Just don’t allow that forgiveness to let them continue to hurt you.  For me, what was more important was learning to forgive myself.  This remains the hardest part of my journey.  While I know how hard I fought and how much I loved my son, there is still a level of survivors guilt and victim guilt that I will likely face for a long time to come.  As I continue on this journey, however, I will focus my efforts on life - on the legacy of my son through telling his story and helping to try and protect other children.  Soon, I will also focus on raising my daughter.  I am starting a new chapter of my life and Luc is not a part of that chapter. So next year, when my daughter is about a year old and the anniversary of Prince’s death approaches, I will think of strength and survival.  I will have survived one more year, and I will be thankful for all the wonderful things life has given me.  This is my survival date.


Next week my daughter turns one year old.  Looking at her sleeping next to me, I am still amazed at how fast this year has gone by.  Me and Stela didn’t spend the day today being sad.  We spent the evening playing, dancing, laughing, and reading some of Prince’s favorite books.  Today is my survival date.

How To Stay Sane In Family Court

sanity

In a perfect world, two people who have a child together would stay together forever living happily ever after with their children.  In a next to perfect world, couples who divorced would both me mentally healthy people, who were both great parents, and they could work out a perfect schedule where the children would have access to both parents without having to uproot their lives every few days.  Sadly, there are many families out there for whom these utopia type worlds don’t exist.  There are many families where one, or both, parents are not mentally well – and the children are caught in a war that is fueled by a corrupt and broken justice system.

Every so often, I get an email from a parent in despair – a parent who is caught in a vicious cycle of legal abuse.  Our current Family Court System is designed in such a way that abusers are able to run rampant over their victims like spoiled children throwing colossal temper tantrums.  The children caught in the middle of these legal wars suffer for years, many never establishing an emotionally healthy situation.  For the parent who is being stomped all over by the tantrum throwing co-parents (who most likely has a personality disorder of some sort), the trauma can become overwhelming.  In the best cases, these parents become numb to the continued abuse.  In the worst cases, parents are driven to the point of even taking their own life out of complete despair.

Given that so many parents seem to be stuck in this endless cycle of abuse, I thought I would take some time this week to share some of the things I tell people when they reach out to me asking for advice.  I am not a lawyer, or a psychologist – I am just a mother who knows what it is like to live through legal abuse at the hands of a psychopath.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD):  When I was in the middle of my Custody War, I felt like I was losing my mind.  I felt trapped in a hell that I can’t even begin to describe in writing.  I remember laughing out loud when my therapist told me that I was suffering from PTSD.  “What,” I asking laughing. “I don’t think you heard me correctly.  I am in a legal battle.  I am not a veteran of war.”  My therapist explained, however, that while I didn’t suffer from what is often reported in the media as causing PTSD, I was suffering from a form of repeated trauma.  One of the first things I tell parents in this situation is that they need to identify that they are under extreme stress, and they need to get help for that.  One of the worst things you can do in a situation like this is assume that you can handle this alone.  Not seeking therapy for PTSD is like deciding not to put a caste on a broken leg and then wondering why you can never seem to walk right again.

Find A Good Lawyer:  Now, in my book, what you look for in a Family Attorney needs to be different from any other types of attorneys.  For example, your business attorney doesn’t need to understand emotions or have experience with children.  While your Family Attorney is not your therapist, your attorney needs to understand how to deal with this highly emotional situation.  He/she needs to be the type of person who can deal with drama without adding their own layer of drama.  If your case has an element of Domestic Violence, reach out to local advocacy groups and get referrals for attorneys who have handled these types of cases before.  Never ever waste your money with a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in Family Law.  I made the huge mistake of dumping butt loads of money into an attorney who had no business handling Family Court cases.  By the time I realized he was a fraud, I had spent thousands of dollars and had to hire new attorneys to pick up the pieces.  Finally, lawyers will waste your money if you let them.  You need to be in the driver seat in this relationship, and don’t be afraid to assert yourself – you are the client after all.

Find What Makes You Happy:  Find activities that make you feel happy and calm.  There may come a time when you have to turn your child over to the other parent, and you do not want to be sitting at home crying the entire day.  If your situation is even half as scary as mine was, you are going to need to do some things to distract yourself so that you can be as calm as possible when the child comes home.  During the first unsupervised visit that my son had with his eventual killer, some of my friends took me for a spa day.  While I was still a bag of stress, I really appreciated that I was actively trying to relax with friends instead of sitting at home watching the clock.  Use this time to do things that you can’t do with your children.

Don’t Stress About Things You Cannot Control:  This was the hardest point for me to follow when I was going through the custody war.  I would worry about everything from what my son would be eating to whether he would have regular diaper changes, etc.  I would also spend hours worrying about what the judge would do.  One of the toughest things about Family Court is that there are so many things do don’t have control over.  Spending time stressing about those things, is time wasted.  Instead, try to focus on things you can change – like your mental health, your own finances, etc.

Focus On The Most Important Thing – Your Child:  I don’t have many regrets about what I did in my son’s life, because I know that I was the best Mom that I could be given the circumstances that I was dealt.  That said, I do have one really big regret that continues to haunt me.  For the majority of the 15 months my son lived, I was actively trying to save his life by making sure his father was never alone with him.  The fact that I couldn’t stop unsupervised access haunts me, but more importantly, I am pained by the quality time I missed with my son while I was on the phone with lawyers or stressing about the case.  While I am not sure there is anything I could have done differently, as I couldn’t have ever imagined it would end the way it did, I will never ever get back those moments.  When I would come home from work, my son would routinely hide my phone in one of his trucks.  He wanted me to pay attention to him, instead of spending my evening screaming on the phone trying to get someone to help us.  Spend quality time with your children.  Try to make the time when you have your children all about them.  Don’t wake up when they are 18 and realize that you spent their entire childhood fixated on the custody war.

In closing, know that you are not alone.  Millions of parents around the world are forced to parent in tremendously terrible situations.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a deep breath, step back, and count your blessings.  Even after suffering the worst case scenario with the death of my son, I often have to step back and realize that I have a lot to be thankful for.  In the midst of the worst abuse of my life, I had the chance to be the mother to a beautiful little angel.  I will forever be thankful for every single second I had with him.  Hang in there Mamas and Papas.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

 

 

Choose Love Over Hate

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“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; The fruit of the womb is a reward.”  - Psalm 127:3

 

Almost a year ago, my daughter was born.  I fell in love with her from the moment I knew she existed.  Every time I saw her on the sonogram (usually in the middle of her trying to suck on her hand or foot), feel her swift kicks to my ribs, or even just think about her – I felt as if this small family of ours was meant to be.  If you have read my story, you also know that nearly two years ago my son Prince was murdered.  Though I have lived through one of the worst tragedies I can imagine, part of honoring my son is knowing that I must also continue to choose love and happiness.  My decision to have my daughter was one of the first steps I took on my personal journey, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision.  Many reading this have also been through tragic experiences of all types – ranging from domestic violence, child abuse, and the terrors of Family Court.  Tragedy should make us stronger, but it shouldn’t define us or take away our ability to choose love despite the hate.

Sharing the news of my baby girl was a positive experience, and I have received overwhelming support from my readers.  Many readers reached out with private messages thanking me for telling my news, and wished my daughter and me the best.  One reader in particular mentioned that she, too, had thought about being a single mother by choice.  She worried, however, about the judgments she would receive from negative and bigoted people – some of who were in her own family.  Before responding to her, I thought a lot about what she said and how I felt about mine and my daughter’s own future given the society we live in.

I made the decision to have my daughter knowing that not everyone would accept our alternative family.  For me, the most important part of my decision was making sure that my daughter would come into this world with a lot of love and support.  After thinking this reality over for a significant amount of time, I realized that I had grown up the child of an “alternative” family.  My parents got married in the late 1970s.  Since my parents are not of the same race, their marriage wasn’t even legal in all 50 states.  And many times, even though it was legal didn’t mean it was socially accepted.  I distinctly remember classmates of mine who asked me why I hadn’t come out with spots since my mother was white and my father was black.

I will never forget the day when I first realized my family was different.  The girl next door and I were good friends.  We were both five years old and attended the same school.  She was having a birthday party where everyone had planned to bring their own cabbage patch doll.  We were both excited about this party and had talked about it for months.  On the day of the party, I ran out of the house with my doll and proudly marched up to her garage with the rest of the children.  As I went to walk through the door, my friend stopped me and said, “My mom said you cannot come to the party because you are black and black people steal things.  You are not allowed in my house.”  While the rest of the kids went inside, I stood on the sidewalk alone with my doll.

After that incident, I ran home and told my parents about what had happened.  “But I am brown Mommy!  My skin isn’t even black,” I explained with clear confusion.  I remember seeing the anger and pain in my parent’s eyes as they attempted to explain racism and bigotry to their innocent five -year old daughter.  I am pretty sure the reality still didn’t sink in that day; however, over the years my parents did a wonderful job explaining to me that being different wasn’t a bad thing.  I learned to embrace my unique background and the reality that I would often be forced to be an ambassador for my race and my unique experience.

My daughter was born into a family that is different, and not everyone will always accept the path that I have chosen.  She will likely encounter many bigoted people throughout her life. It is my job as her mother to teach her that her unique story is a blessing, and an opportunity to change the world for the better.   For the reader who was contemplating having another child, and for the many others who believe that an alternative family (be it two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, etc) is the best choice for their family, my advice is as follows:

Children are a blessing.  They deserve to be showered with love from a strong community of people – regardless of gender, race, or whatever particular label you happen to be using at the moment.  Don’t ever let narrow mindedness, bigotry, or hate factor into your decision to have a child.

And for those of you who are trying to rebuild your lives after tragedy (even if you are still in the tragedy of Family Court), choose to live with happiness and don’t let this tragedy rob you or your children of your lives, happiness, and future.

 

Saving Forgiveness For The Forgivable

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Early this week, I read an article about a woman who forgave her rapist in open court.  To give you some quick background on this story, Jane Piper was raped and beaten in the back seat of her car 11 years ago.  For 11 years, she had been mulling over some choice words for her assailant.  After all this time, she chose to tell this vile man that she forgave him.  What was most intriguing to me, however, wasn’t her statement of forgiveness, but the things she said with it:

“I acknowledge that you did these disgusting things to me, for whatever reason…and I forgive you, human being to human being.  Do you want to be a better person?  Do you wish that you hadn’t done this stuff?  Who is the person you once wanted to be?”

As I read the above quote, I had to physically bring my hand to my mouth so not to scream at the computer screen as I read these words.  ‘human being to human being?’ I thought perplexed.  Here this woman was talking to this rapist as though he was the same type of human as she was.  She was projecting her own human construct of normal onto a man who clearly wasn’t normal.

Victim’s Statement:

I was drawn to this woman’s story because, I too, have thought a lot about what I will say to my son’s murder if I ever get the chance.  I often go from thinking about how I will describe to him how vile he is, trying to show him with my words how much he gave up, or to just wondering if there is any point in wasting my breath on such a hopeless, useless, shell/waste of space.  Jane Piper had 11 years to think of what she would say to her attacker.  While the article I referenced doesn’t explain her thought process, I can only imagine that she mostly forgave him for her own benefit – and not his.

From my own jaded perspective on this issue, I sat at my computer and imagined the things I would have preferred reading as the title of this article (instead of the focus on how amazing it was that this woman forgave a psycho):

1)  Judge grants rape victim the right to kick rapist in the nuts, rendering him unable to have children, before she forgives him.

2) Instead of issuing a victim statement to the rapist, rape victim decides to use the platform to bring attention to how rape needs to be prosecuted more often.

3)  For the first time in the history of the world, rapist shows that he has been rehabilitated by suggesting the community stone him as punishment for his crime.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.  While as a victim, I would never get on anyone’s case for how they choose to move on from a crime.  I am happy for this woman that she has been able to move on, while still believing that everyone is capable of good.  That is amazing optimism that I hope to one day believe to be true.

Personal Responsibility:

I hate to break it to the optimistic people out there, but most prisoners don’t feel bad about what they have done.  Many are not able to accept personal responsibility for why they are in jail.  While there are likely some people who feel bad about what they did, I would argue that this is not the majority.  Have you ever heard someone tell you that most people in prison claim they are innocent?  Well, it’s because they cannot take responsibility for what they have done.  If you cannot take responsibility (and I don’t include people who simply admit guilt to lesson their sentence), forgiveness will be lost on you.

In addition to Jane Piper’s addressing her rapist as an equal, she also asked him questions that I found intriguing.  The questions she asked were built from 11 years of likely doing the same exercise that I have done on many occasions.  The question she seemed to be searching for was “why”.  While I don’t know her true motivation here, I can assume she forgave him because she no longer wanted to harbor anger, but she still wanted the closure that an honest response that she believed the “why” question would give her.

I recently had lunch with one of my ex “Luc’s” other victims.  He told me that one day he would like to confront him about all the terrible things he had done to him.  He said he didn’t want to talk to him, but that he wanted to just ask him “Why”.  I told him that I understood his need for answers, but that he needed to understand that while he certainly had the right to ask the question – he might need to prepare himself for never hearing the truth.

Attempting to Understand Crazy:

Many times in the past few years, I too have played the “why” game.  I go over and over in my head and try to make sense of why someone would kill their own child.  This game often takes me in circles down a rabbit hole of badness, until I realize that there is no way to jump inside the head of a psychopath.  I think it is dangerous to attempt to look at people who do scary and vile things as though they are rational players.  When we try to pigeon hole these people into our own safe mental constructs, we under estimate their dangerousness.

While Jane Piper had good intentions in forgiving her rapist, I pray that she forgave him knowing that he might have been unforgivable.  I pray that she knew that she might not ever get the answers to her questions, because her rapist might not even know the answers himself.  I fully support the idea that victims need to let go of the anger (though I am not there yet), but I challenge society to understand that in order to protect ourselves from truly monstrous people, we need to realize that not everyone is capable of good.  Not everyone can be rehabilitated, and not everyone is worthy of forgiveness.

 

 

 

The Vicious Cycle of Child Abuse In The Black Community

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Let me start by letting you all know that I consider myself a black woman; therefore, I believe I qualify as a member of the so-called “black community.” That said, I believe the black community is as diverse as saying “the American community”, but I digress.  This past weekend, I had the privilege of being a guest caller on the radio show Cole And The Cure.  This show has a large Black American audience, and is based in Tampa, FL.  While some people might argue if Tampa counts as “the deep south”, the callers certainly considered themselves southern.

The show focused on the issue of Child Abuse.  Mr. Cole, the host, called me to participate after reading my blog from last week on Adrian Peterson.  Before addressing the audience, I had a chance to listen to many callers’ views on spanking.  I have to admit, I was shocked and appalled at what I was hearing.   Several callers claimed that “whooping” a child was just a part of black culture, and blamed police for intervening in the way Peterson decided to “discipline” his child.  Others claimed that while Peterson shouldn’t have left a mark, they believed it was ok to beat their child.  Even the co-host admitted that when she first heard the story she believed that Peterson was just “handling his business” as a parent.

Out of all the callers, however, I was most concerned when a woman explained her belief that you should beat your children young, because they were too young to understand reason.  She went on to say that since police officers beat prisoners, she is just getting her children ready for the real world by hitting them when they “step out of line.” So after the show, I went straight to my computer and jotted down some take away thoughts about the state of the black community:

Are are raising our children to be prisoners?

 Do people actually think that because prison guards use physical punishment, using this same type of behavior on your child will stop them from becoming a prisoner?   I firmly believe that if you hit your child in an attempt to curb violence, you are going to likely spur the very thing you are claiming to be trying to stop.

When I was a teacher in California, I was told during one of the State training sessions that the State of California used third grade writing assessments to project how many prisons the State would need to build in the future.  Now I won’t get into the obvious parallels they were making between the education of third graders and prison projects; however, the debate on child discipline vs. abuse had me thinking about this statistic.  Was there something to this?  Not only was the State making a judgement on children ending up in prison, many parents were raising their children as if it was a forgone conclusion.

The Impact Of Violence At A Young Age:  

One of the most disturbing things about the radio show was the common believe that people should hit their children as a form of discipline when they are “too young to understand reason.”  This was shockingly illogical to me.  Imagine being a child who is not yet verbal, and you hit or bite someone.  In response, because you are too young to be reasoned with, your parent decides to hit you with a switch.

(Let’s take a moment of contemplative silence to think about the irony here…)

Do you really think that this child, after being smacked, is going to “learn his lesson”?  This poor kid is likely to be intensely confused by the fact that you were angry about him hitting someone, and your response was hitting him.  By showing your child this odd form of discipline, or child abuse as I would call it, you have effectively taught your child that when you are upset – the logical response is to hit.

Psychological research shows that a child learns to form attachments before the age of five.  If your form of discipline involves intentionally inflicting pain on your child, I would like to challenge you to think about the life long scars that you are forming that might not present in a physical mark.

Social Responsibility:

Another response that I heard on the radio show was this idea that “spanking my child is my business”, and “I know the difference between spanking and abuse”.  People often hear about my tragic case, and insist that the way they choose to discipline is not at the level of what happened to my son, and therefore, they don’t have to worry about it.  My response to these people is this:  While many things that happen behind your doors at night is your business, you better hope that police don’t take the stance that child abuse is not something for police to get involved in.  Many people like to believe that this issue is not impacting them, however, there are many abusive parents who hide behind the idea that their form of discipline is their business.  By propagating this crap that police should stay out of your form of discipline, you are putting children at risk of being hurt or killed.

Slavery And Child Abuse:

I anticipate that many folks will not want to hear this, but just because you were beaten…your parents were beaten…and your ancestors were beaten does not mean that you need to continue the cycle.  Charles Barkley, in all his idiotic wisdom, defended Adrian Peterson by that, “every black parent in the south” whoops their child.  Barkley went on to say,  “Every black parent in the South is gonna be in jail under those circumstances.  I think we have to be careful letting people dictate how they treat their children.”  I have news for you Charles:  There was a time when it was legal for white people to beat black people too.  I am thankful that the government stepped in, and dictated that black people have Civil Rights and should not be owned and abused as property.  If that hadn’t occurred, both you and I would be in a field picking cotton, or serving as an unpaid hand in masters’ kitchen.

 

I cannot say how my son’s father was raised, or what created the monster who killed my son Prince.  I do, however, know for sure that violence begets violence.  Until we are man and woman enough to break the cycle of violence, these terrible things will continue to happen in our society.  Many of you are likely thinking that my stance against child abuse comes from having grown up in a cushy non-abusive environment.  That is not the case.  I am the first person to stand here and say that while I was hit as a child, due to the same cultural acceptance of child abuse, I am strongly against it for my child.  My child will be raised to respect me, and not fear me.  She will be raised to understand that she is entitled to the same Civil Rights as an adult.  She will not be raised to assume that one day she will be a prisoner, and she will understand that violence has no good place in our society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray Rice – The Child Of An Adrian Peterson

 

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Almost a year ago, I wrote about a terrible tragedy - the murder of Adrian Peterson’s two-year old son.  In the past week, you would have to have been hiding under a rock not to hear about how this same man, who lost a son he never had the chance to know, was now being indicted for abusing his four year old son.  I cannot accurately describe the rage I felt when I heard this story.  I defended Peterson a year ago, and was sad for him that he never had the chance to know his child who was murdered.  Now, after seeing the graphic pictures of his four year old son’s battered little boy, I want to spit on this poor excuse for a father.

Close to home:

For those who are familiar with my story, you know that I am intimately familiar with how it feels to lose a child.  I also know the pain of learning that your child was murdered as the result of a horribly abusive incident.  I simply cannot understand how a man whose child was murdered in this violent way can justify raising his hand to another one of his children.  As I read more and more about the story, I felt as though I had entered some strange alternate reality.  I couldn’t believe how bold this man was to believe he would not have to face the law after what he did.  In case you missed it, the following text messages show Peterson’s reaction to what he did to this innocent child.

(The following are text messages he sent the child’s mother after returning the child from a visit.)

Mother: “What happened to his head?”

Peterson: “Hit his head on the Carseat.”

Mother: “How does that happen, he got a whoopin in the car.”

Peterson: “Yep.”

Mother: “Why?”

Peterson: “I felt so bad. But he did it his self.”

(The messages go on with Peterson describing how he was “disciplining” the child for cussing at a sibling.)

Mother: “What did you hit him with?”

Peterson: “Be still n take ya whooping he would have saved the scare (scar). He aight (all right)”

(Translation in the event you cannot understand Peterson’s poor use of the English language:  “If he had not tried to escape me when I was beating him up, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten a scar.  He will be alright.”)

Public Reaction:

When I heard about Peterson, I was appalled, and I regretted ever believing he would have been a good influence for any of his children.  What is equally appalling is the reactions that I have heard from people after the news that Peterson had been indicted.  People came out of the woodwork to defend child abuse.  Since Peterson used the term “discipline”, many folks believed this gave him a free pass to beat the shit out of his four year old.

Here is a sample of some of the vial things I read in response to the felony that Peterson committed against his son:

1)  “If it left bruises and welts, okay fine, charge him. I’m just waiting for the anti-spanking brigade to use this to push their parenting ideas on others. While everyone has their own ideas about punishment, I don’t think using a switch constitutes abuse.”

In what reality does beating a child with a stick NOT cause bruises and welts?  How about I have you grab a branch off of that tree so I can hit you with it, and let’s see if you still think this doesn’t constitute abuse.

I am not in the business of giving random unsolicited parenting advice (ok, maybe sometimes I do – but you all have the choice to continue reading or not).  It isn’t my business whether you choose to give your kids veggies for breakfast, sleep train a certain way, or wait until they are older for kindergarten.  That said, I will ALWAYS stand firm against child abuse because your abused child is going to turn into an adult who thinks abuse is an acceptable behavior when you are upset with someone.  Whether or not you choose to abuse your child is not a personal parenting decision.  It is something society has a right to judge and speak out against.  And yes, I am from the anti-spanking brigade.

2)  “This is insulting. Why in the hell would he be charged with anything for this? He is a parent and can discipline his children however he sees fit!!!!”

Just because people like this disguise child abuse with the term “discipline” doesn’t make it any less illegal.  Newsflash, you don’t have a right as a parent to abuse your child.  Period.

3)  “No big deal, my Mom/Dad did the same to me.”  And one of my favorite variations of this argument:

“I was spanked as a kid. I think I turned out fine. I am 23, and even to this day, my mom wouldn’t hesitate to slap me across the face.”

This quote I have seen in several different locations.  This argument is just as silly as saying, “well, it isn’t a big deal that my husband beats me…I mean, my Dad beat my Mom and she didn’t get killed.”  Wake up folks!!  Just because you were abused as a child, doesn’t mean you should continue the abuse just because it happened to you.  I also wonder what sort of respect you have for yourself, and for your mother, if you are 23 and your Mom is slapping you in the face.  Congratulations for surviving an abusive childhood, but please stop the cycle.

Alarming Parallels:

I could go on for pages with the amount of people who were defending this sorry ass human.  Wasn’t just a few weeks ago when we had to watch another football player knock out his wife in an elevator?  After the way people reacted to Peterson, it shouldn’t shock us that domestic violence has become so damn common.  So many people seem to think its ok for an adult to hit a child (which nobody would argue is a fair fight), but when a grown man beats a grown woman we wonder why she is staying in the marriage.  Why do we have such double standards when it comes to children, yet we are all appalled and confused when we see story after story about children getting murdered by their parents?

Finally, I hope that in the past month you all are able to see the parallels between these two stories.  Here you have two men for whom violence appears to be the norm.  I bet if we asked Ray Rice how he feels about Peterson’s situation, he would likely say something like, “I don’t see why it’s a big deal…I mean, my Dad and Mom made me get my own switch before they beat my ass.  I call that discipline.”  Sure Ray, and I bet you also call what happened in the elevator a love tap too right?