I Blamed The Victim, Too – Until I Became One

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“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.