Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Criminals Who Look Like Us

Mothers of small children will tell you that just because you are a stay-at-home mother doesn't mean that you get to watch daytime television, unless of course, you're talking about Nick Jr. or Disney Playhouse. However, mothers of small babies will tell you that television keeps them company because you can only gaze into the eyes of your drooling infant for so long.

Last week, the little kids were all napping, but the baby wasn't and I happened surf past CourtTV and caught part of the trial of Sabine Bieber. Mrs. Bieber cared for children in a daycare. She apparently valued naptime even more than I do (how can that be possible?) because she gave the little ones Diphenhydramine, aka generic Benadryl, to make them drowsy at naptime.

One-year old Dane died from her negligence. Now, Mrs. Bieber faces forty years in prison.

I used to think that a giant gulf existed between criminals and me. I judged them harshly when I considered their crimes. And yet, consider this case. You might shake your head in disbelief and wave her fingers around your temple in the universal sign for "ca-razy!"

But really, how porous are the boundaries that separate us from these women? One bad decision leads to a worse decision. A lapse in judgment shakes the foundation until you see the world crookedly and the thoughts in your own head don't seem nuts at all. The horizon is hidden by the fog of choice after choice that soon leads you backwards, far from your original goal. Disorientation rules.

It's all speculation, of course. Who really knows what led these women--women very much like you or your neighbor or even me--to take the steps they did? Nothing is as simple as it first appears and human behavior is more mysterious than anyone can explain.

A couple of Christmases ago, when my daughter was only three months old, my husband received a phone call from a pastor in New York. The New York pastor asked my husband to visit a girl in a nearby jail. He went several times and pieced together bits of her story. When she was released (after six weeks, as I recall), he brought her to our house so she could prepare to go home to New York. (She needed the court's permission before she could even leave the state.)

I was worried until she walked through the door and then I saw that she was much like my own sister, a lost and wandering soul with flushed cheeks and a ponytail.

She stayed with us a week. I will never be the same again. She held my baby, helped me in the kitchen, ran errands with me and kept me company. After a week, we bought her an airline ticket, gave her cash for the bus which would shuttle her home and sent her on her way. She's living happily ever after at the moment and I like to think that we served as a sturdy stepping stone along the way. I hope her life continues to unfold with serenity and strength.

Meanwhile, I consider the sad cases of Sabine Bieber and Judy Brown. And while my compassion used to be heaped solely upon the victims of crimes, I can't do that anymore. I am too much like the ones sitting alone in a barred cell.

And you are, too, I suspect.


Blogger Chelsea said...

One of the hardest things about being abused is learning the only differnce between my abusers and me...I'm not sure what the difference is except I'm in recovery and they are not.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Jared Kirk said...

Off topic, but I have been reading your blog and I love it! You really made me smile with your honesty and a touch of wit. I will add you to my links!
Dynamic Equilibrium

5:41 AM  
Blogger weorwe said...

Reminds me of one of the Father Brown mystery stories where Chesterton explains that Father Brown is so good at solving the mysteries because there's nothing in a criminal that isn't in his own heart.

5:53 AM  
Anonymous Surcie said...

I agree with you completely. And I think that's where compassion comes from--understanding that others aren't so different from you.

Is your husband a pastor? I'm new here, so I haven't quite figured out the "lay of the land" yet.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Rae Ann said...

What a wise post! We all would do well to remember that the same blood flows through our veins as flows through anyone else's. I do tend to be a harsh critic sometimes, but part of that comes from knowing my own weaknesses and being afraid of them. I came here from ellipsis.

7:13 AM  
Blogger Julana said...

I feel so sad this morning, to see a young black man in our town sentenced to 20 years in prison. He got drunk, drove the wrong way onto the freeway, and hit a car, killing three young men from a wealthy suburb.
A few years ago, we lived in Michigan. If memory serves me right, a white man driving drunk was involved in an accident killing someone, and got six months.
In the second case, the judge may have had your attitude. In the first, the judge evidently did not.

I am reading a biography of P.D. James, the mystery writer. She does state that she feels there is a qualitative difference between those who will willfully take another's life, and those of us who will not.

I think that is a major abyss to cross, the willingness to kill. Prison bars alone do not make a person qualitatively different from those outside them. We all sin.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Reloaded said...

a wise post, well said

8:20 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Darling said...

Interesting thoughts. There are some people in jail however because they are so mentally ill that they have committed acts that only someone in their demtned state could commit. I certainly hope I am a long way from thise depraved acts of abuse on other humans. Having said that however I do get your point! :)

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly understand this.... and have only come to understand it recently. I used to say how wicked someone could be because they... or how could a mom or dad do...... I know better know. After having my last child, I kept forgetting stuff. I couldn't remember where I put this or where I left that. I told my husband it scared me to death that I did this.

The other day my daughter and I ran to the store. I got out of the car, walked up to the front of the store and realized I left the baby in the car. I turned around and ran back to the car, got inside and cried. I have cried everyday since. I feel like the worse mother in the world because I left my child in the vehicle. The what if's come to me everyday. What if I had not remembered? What if it had been hot out and my child would have died. What if someone would have seen my child and called the welfare on me? Not a day has gone by that I think on these things. So much so that I have refused to go anywhere with my children which means I stay home now and my dh goes out for needed items.

I won't judge others anymore for doing what is a mistake. On the other hand, deliberate acts deserve consequences. Mistakes deserve mercy, outright sin deserves punishment.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. This is the only time I have shared this with anyone, other than my husband. The shame is a burden to bear......

9:47 AM  
Blogger Mel said...

Anonymous, thanks for sharing. I hope your burden is lighter.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

Dear Anonymous, please don't let yourself slide down the "could have" path. My youngest child was in a runaway grocery cart down a hill...my back was turned because I was dealing with my 3 year old. I had no idea until I heard a lady yell.I turned around to see a stranger intercept my baby and the cart right before an intersection.

It was my worst moment as a mom. Rather than dwell on what a horrible, inattentive person I was that day, I've turned the "what-ifs?" into an opportunity to thank God for sending people into his path that day. I marvel at His provision. It isn't a mistake I will ever make again, and for that I can be thankful for the lesson.

Please, please don't beat yourself up over this...my prayers are with you.

My mother's church recently saw the founder of the prayer ministry be convicted in the first-degree murders of his wife and six-year-old daughter. The story was featured on CBS's show "48 Hours". My mother cleaned his house, along with other ladies, when the wife and daughter turned up "missing" originally. They all stood behind him, until the evidence mounted against him. They still pray for him in his prison cell at the state pen.

He was a devoted, productive member of the church. And a murderer of his wife and child.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

About 10 years ago, I had what I believe was clinical depression, although I never went to a doctor about it. I muddled through it, and do I mean muddled.

I made choices that I thought made perfect sense at the time, and looking back I question what the heck was going on in my brain. Luckily, the choices weren't really hurting anyone but myself.

Different circumstances affect people differently. I know for myself, I react differently to things than when I was 20, and I am sure that will happen at 50 as well. It is impossible to know what choices we will make in the future.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Eleanor said...

Am I the only one who can differentiate between poor choices made under the influence of alcohol, fatigue or clinical depression and intentionally sedating a child at naptime without the consent of the parent? And no I do not think this makes me judgemental. If Jesus knew enough to throw the tax collectors out of the temple, I am guessing He would have chucked these two out as well.

Those of you who posted and confessed to leaving your baby in the car or losing the shopping carts?ladies this is in an entirely different ballpark. You ache at the thought of what may have happened to your precious children. I ache with you and am so sorry you had these expereinces. Parenting is an enormous amount of work. But I must strenuously disagree that you or I are anything like these women and object to Mel suggesting that she ?suspects? we are. How interesting that you ?consider the sad cases of Sabine Bieber and Judy Brown? and not the sad, dead one year old boy, who?s only crime was being left in the hands of a lazy caretaker. Who, by the way, had medicated three other children and was found with 64 bottles of generic bendaryl and three other sedatives. Who is the bleeding heart liberal now?

10:24 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

I see Eleanor has finally gotten a blog. Where she mixes descriptions of her trips to Paris with attacks on Mel.
I have such a small mind. Cavorting around Paris would leave absolutely no spare room in it for anything else--let alone blog sniping.
I'd be a little overwhelmed with sensory delight and gratitude to God.

Maybe she's trying to lure Mel's readers over. Rather cheap method of building readership. I bit once, not again.

Also, I felt maybe my previous comment was a little over-confident/proud. I better admit I could kill someone, given the right circumstances--but I hope I wouldn't.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous mopsy said...

Eleanor, I was simply trying to help "anonymous" by sharing a story of a bad parenting moment to let her know it happens, we thank God when things turn out okay in spite of ourselves, and we move on with a lesson learned. She sounded very depressed. I wanted to let her know she wasn't alone. A "but for the grace of God" kind of thing...

I wasn't comparing my shopping cart incident to *murder*.

9:19 AM  

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