The Impact Statement

Yesterday, my son’s father was sentenced to life without parole  in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the capital murder of my son Prince. It has been almost five years since my son was murdered, and I have had to endure a justice system that is designed to give the criminal every opportunity to defend – even when it sometimes comes at the expense of the victims.

During the sentencing hearing, it is the first time that the victims have the opportunity to address the court and the defendant. True to his nature, Rams didn’t want to face his victims in court. He actually told the judge that he didn’t want to attend the sentencing hearing. Luckily, the judge told him that he didn’t have a choice. He would have to sit through almost two hours of judgement, which was a small price to pay for the horrible crime he committed against an innocent child.

When it was my time to address the court, I requested that I stand at the podium that is usual reserved for the prosecution and defense counsel. I didn’t want to sit down, and I didn’t want to sit as close to Rams as I sat a few months earlier during my witness testimony. As soon as I started to speak, he shifted in his seat and tried to put his head down. The guard standing behind him yanked him back in his seat so that he was forced to sit upright during my testimony. I took a deep breath and read the following statement:

I appreciate that our justice system allows me the opportunity to finally address the court. It has been almost five years since I lost my son Prince. While I am sure that at least a few people in this court room would have preferred me to have been silent this entire time, but staying silent in the face of injustice is simply against my nature.

 

I would like to express my appreciation for this court. While many parts of the justice system failed my son over the years, this court and specifically Judge Bellows – you did not. I have appreciated the rigor and the respect that you have shown this case, and I am grateful for the, all be it sometimes bizarre, twists and turns of this case that brought you here.

 

I wrote a victim impact statement that I have already submitted to the court, but I have some additional things I would like to say this morning. Before I talk about the impact that my son’s murder has had on me, I want to address something that Mr. Ebert said to my family immediately following the verdict. He told us that we had all been “good victims”. I would like to make something perfectly clear today. I am NOT a victim. I am a survivor, a warrior, but I am no longer anyone’s victim.

 

THE IMPACT:

A couple of months ago, I attended my daughter’s pre-school graduation. At a moment that should have been completely void of sorrow, I was overcome by gut wrenching pain. While extremely proud of my astute and precocious daughter, I couldn’t help but think of my son Prince who would never have the same opportunities.

 

As my daughter watched the tears roll down my face, I saw her face drop. She ran to me and asked me why I was crying. This moment was another painful reminder that the impact of my son’s murder, no matter how much I try to shield her, will inevitably have a ripple effect through my entire family – this will include my daughter and any other children I may have in the future. My children will never meet their brother, and there will always be someone important missing from my family.

 

The night I left Rams, he told me he would kill me.

 

In the summer of 2014, an officer from the Manassas police department called me. I was on vacation when I received the call. Detective Guyton told me that an inmate who was serving time on the same cell block as Rams had reported that Rams was trying to hire someone to kill me.

 

He went on to tell me not to be worried because Rams was safely behind bars, and that all the inmates who reported this news were as well. This gave me little comfort because I knew that I had no control over whether Rams stayed safely in jail.

 

The fact that Rams has been behind bars for so many years has offered some comfort, but even if he remains behind bars (which I pray he does), it will never diminish the impact that my son’s death has had.

 

 

I have survived and will continue to survive all of the horrible things that come with living through the murder of my child. I want the court to know these things because you should know at least a small slice of the impact of this crime.

 

I am brave, but that doesn’t mean that I am not afraid. I am not the same person I was before this crime occurred.

 

  • I look over my shoulder – jump from loud noises – worry about my safety and the safety of my family every single day.
  • I wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks, after seeing the face of my son’s killer invade my dreams.
  • There are times when triggers that I cannot predict will throw me back into the hospital room the night Prince died. I will be sitting somewhere and suddenly be transported back to the moment when I am holding my son, and the doctors unplug him from life support – and I relive him bleeding out all over me all over again.
  • I have had years of therapy, trying to erase Rams from my mind – erase what he has done.
  • I think about Prince every day, and that means I also think about the fact that this body is cold and in the ground.
  • I often panic when I have to leave my daughter, remembering what it was like the last time I saw her brother.

The day my son was murdered was the worst day of my life. It wasn’t just my baby who died that day, but a part of my heart and soul left with him. From the moment I became a mother, I was changed. While Prince was alive, there wasn’t a moment when I didn’t think about where he was, who he was with, and how he was doing. After his death, I still think of his constantly. Instead of wondering where he is and how he is doing, I am now faced with a lifetime of mourning for the man my son would have become.

 

There is no way to quantify how it feels to wake up every morning and remember that your child with never again call your name, never have his first day of kindergarten, never again laugh, smile, or cry. I dreamed of one-day dancing with my son on his wedding day. I dreamed of all the moments we would share as he experienced the world for the first time. This pain is not something that comes and goes. I live with it – walk past it – go to sleep at night next to it – wake up face to face with it – and carry it out the door with me every single day.

 

In addition to the pain I carry with regard to my son’s murder, I live with the fear that my family will never be safe from Rams. I fear that if Rams has frequent and unsupervised contact with other inmates (particularly those who stand a chance to get out of jail), or access to the Internet, he will use this access to further terrorize my family. I have been informed by the Manassas Police Department over the years that Rams has offered to pay people to kill me. While I have no proof other than the police reporting this to me, I have no doubt that he is capable of doing this considering what he did to his own flesh and blood.

 

I want the court to understand the beautiful spirit that Rams took from this world. In the 15-months that Prince was alive, he made much a positive impact on so many people. He had a huge family who adored him – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and a mother who would have jumped in front of a train if it would have saved him.

 

Prince was the type of person who could light up a room with his smile. He loved his people and his dogs. He loved to dance, and the artist Prince’s song “Kiss” would make him wiggle with joy. His favorite singer was Adele, and he had an unusual crush on the news anchor Ann Curry.

 

In his daycare, he was known for being the child who would run to hug anyone who started to cry. He loved to play with cars, blocks, hide cell phones and keys, and he had a way with animals that gave him the nickname amongst family as the “animal whisperer”. His eyes were so dark brown that they reflected light, and had a shine that will be burned into my memory forever.

When he died, he was just learning to speak, and had only said the word “ball” for the first time a couple of days before his murder. I am eternally grateful that I was able to hear him say Mama before I lost him, but I will also wonder what he would have said to me had he been old enough to have had the chance.

Rams has ruined his own life more than he has ruined mine. Prince and Shadow were the two greatest gifts of Rams’ life. They would have loved him no matter how flawed he was, and he was too sick to understand that his only hope in life was to be a good father to those boys.

Rams showed no mercy to Prince when he killed him. While I desperately try not to think about what it was like for Prince in those final moments, it is a thought that I have been unable to escape. I know it was painful, and I know he was scared. I have to live with the fact that I was unable to protect him from that monster.

I am concerned for my family, and I want for us to live the best life we possibly can live. Rams has already taken so much from us – Please do not allow him to take more. Please don’t ever let him out of prison.

Now I would like to address John Anthony, Joaquin Rams, or whomever you are calling yourself these days –

I am not naïve enough anymore to think that my words will change you or make you suddenly realize what you have done, but unfortunately for you – you have to sit here and listen to me anyway.

You did not break me. You should take no comfort in what I have expressed to the court today with regard to the impact my son’s death had on me and my family.

You used to say that you believed you must have done something horrible in another life to deserve all of the terrible things that you perceived were happening to you.

(At this point Rams started twitching in his seat, and laughing…the judge gave him the an extreme side eye.)

It should be clear, at least in this case, that this here – the fact that you are no longer a free man – this is happening to you for no other reason than because of the poor decisions you have made in THIS life.

 

I pity you because you are a pathetic excuse for a human – incapable of love or being loved.

 

I HATE you – I DO NOT forgive you.

 

Forgiveness should be reserved for people who are capable of remorse, and I know you well enough to know that is not possible.

 

May you rot in prison for the rest of your pathetic life. And may the system and your fellow inmates show you the same level of mercy that you showed Prince.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awkward Smile of Grief

awkward smile
I haven’t blogged in a few years. One of the main reasons I stopped was so that nothing I said could possibly negatively impact the murder trial surrounding my son’s death. On Thursday April 13, 2017, this changed – Joaquin Rams was finally convicted of the capital murder of my son Prince. Rams will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Just a reminder: This blog is not about Rams. This blog is about community, social justice, and the drive to fix the broken justice system that failed my son.

I wrote the following essay before my son’s murderer was convicted. One of the things I strive to do with my writing is let folks know that they are not alone. I am happy to finally be able to share it with you. It isn’t easy telling people for the first time a story that is possibly one of the worst they have ever heard. Many of us are often caught in public, unable to respond, to invasive questions by complete strangers. This can be something seemingly innocent like:

1. “Do you and your husband want children?”

What if you and your husband can’t have children? Is your fertility really any of that person’s business?

2. “I am so sorry for your loss. This must be so hard. Do you need anything?”

Totally innocent question, but imagine trying to answer it when your current struggle is getting out of bed and putting on clothing.

3. “Is she your only child? Is she your first child?”

I get asked this on nearly a weekly basis. In fact, I was just asked this today while at the eye doctor. My blog post today talks about how I answer this question.

***

 

In the wake of my 15-month old son Prince’s murder, I smiled awkwardly whenever I was forced tell a stranger what happened to him. Though I knew smiling was not an appropriate response, and it certainly didn’t mirror how I felt inside, it was like an instinctive reflex that I couldn’t control.

I dreaded answering the casual question of how many children I had, when asked by a complete stranger. “Two, but only one is still alive,” I should have answered. More often, I either dodged the question, or lied and claimed only my daughter – completely ignoring the existence of my son.

Answering this question honestly forced me to tell the strangers standing across from me a story that was possibly the worst thing they had ever heard, and one that illustrated rock bottom of the human condition. Curiosity peaked, an honest answer was inevitably followed by the even more awkward request for the story behind why one of my children was no longer alive. It was gut wrenching to relive his murder every time, humiliating to cry in front of strangers, and draining to try and respond in a way that others found appropriate.

 

A couple months after my son was killed, one of the first times I got out of bed after the tragedy, I went to a crepe stand that my son and I visited nearly every weekend. Everyone who worked at the stand knew my son by his big smile, deep soulful eyes, and animated curls. This was the first time I went there without him, and his presence had been so big that it was obvious that he was absent.

 

“Where is your son?” It was an innocent question. It mortified me, and I panicked. What was I going to say to this woman? Crying in the middle of the street wasn’t an option. I wasn’t ready to tell her why he wasn’t there and why he would never come back. I fought back the tears that were threatening, and swallowed several times as though doing so would resolve the pain I felt in my chest. I considered pretending that I didn’t know what she was talking about, or pretending I wasn’t who she thought I was. At a loss for reasonable alternatives, I blurted out the truth.

 

As the words escaped my mouth, she burst out into tears. I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, emotionally naked and vulnerable. As she stared at me, painfully and intensely, I folded my arms over my chest. Shielding my fully clothed body, I desperately tried to feel less exposed.

Why had I been so afraid of telling her? And why was I having such a hard time knowing how to react to her sadness? “It’s ok,” I said, though of course it wasn’t at all. Still fighting back my own tears, I began to try desperately to stop hers.

As her breakdown continued, I continued tap dancing – I smiled, giggled, and tried to shift the conversation as though what I had just told her wasn’t a bit deal. “Why aren’t you crying?” She appeared stunned by my reaction. The unexpected judgement that was depicted in her face left me feeling ashamed. My cheeks grew red, and my hands started to shake. The heat welling up on my face so strong that I felt the urge to press my hands up against it. I wanted to stop this reaction, but was completely powerless.

 

‘What did this woman expect me to do’, I wondered. I wanted to vanish, I wanted my son back, and I wondered why I couldn’t have died with him. The truth was, I didn’t know how I was supposed to act after my life had just been shattered. Though it wasn’t my job to make this woman feel better about what had happened to me, I didn’t know this at the time.

 

I started lying to people when asked about my children. I pretended as though I had never had a son, attempting to save myself from reliving the death through the eyes of someone new. I was afraid that speaking of him would cause me to react in a way that was uncomfortable for others. Managing the emotions of strangers was more than I could bear. Denying Prince’s existence allowed temporary solace, but it also tore me apart from the inside out. I felt as though I was disrespecting his memory, and this was killing me.

Everyone had advice on how I should cope. Initially, I listened to everything. I grasped for advice because I was lost in sorrow. This constant, often conflicting, advice began to give me whip lash. Out of options, I had to decide to stop listening to it. I started standing in my truth, and decided that my son’s memory was more important to me than how the reality of his death made others feel.

Smiling, and giggling awkwardly, had been desperate attempts to diffuse the pain I saw in others. I was putting everyone else’s needs before my own. I don’t think I will ever feel safe crying public, but now that I had decided to stand in my truth, I had to also force myself to accept my son’s story as my new normal. This required me to trust that it would get easier over time. It also forced me to allow myself to be vulnerable in the process.

One recent fall morning, I was again faced with the decision to run from the pain or stand in my truth. Me and my daughter were shopping at the local farmer’s market in our neighborhood. “Is she your only child,” a woman asked, as my daughter grabbed apple samples. Just as I felt my cheeks start to get red, and the fear of a panic attack set in, I took a deep breath. “No, she isn’t.” I smiled, grabbed my daughter’s hand, and continued to walk. Though the moment was brief, I had included my son in our family that day. I felt like I had taken back the power required to claim my dead son. Prince was finally holding my other hand.