Labor Day Weekend

This has been an excellent weekend so far. Mostly, that’s because I’ve remembered how to sleep the day away.

This weekend started for me with my first strangulation call. The call came in at 0100, and it was a request for my partner and me to relieve the unit before us, who had been on the call already for about six hours. Strangulations can be like that because they require a forensic nurse, and forensic nurses don’t just hang out at the ER. They aren’t the most common of nurses, and they sometimes have other things they have to do, so we were looking at the nurse being available around 1000. One of the primary reasons this sucks is because if a victim leaves the hospital and comes back when the nurse is available, there’s a decent likelihood that she’s going to be charged for 2 different ER visits.

In addition to the normal frustrations that come with having to wait 19 hours (and probably more, because there was also a sexual assault at the hospital waiting to be seen by the forensic nurse)… in addition to the frustration of waiting for 19+ hours, our victim hadn’t eaten, had been dragged through a wash without being able to shower, had an enormous bulge on her forehead where she’d been hit in the face with a gun, was bruised and scratched all over, and she needed to be ready to move into a shelter if the judge released the guy that morning or if someone paid his bond and he got out. Additionally, our victim had been regularly branded in private areas, so I’m sure she had some pain that she wasn’t even talking about.

When we got there, our victim and the other two advocates were all slouched into uncomfy waiting room chairs. They looked exhausted. Luckily, my partner was actually a staff advocate and thus knows how to get things for people, so she managed to get us into the quiet room (it’s a special room usually reserved for sexual assault victims, although I’ve also seen it used for families there for child death cases). My partner sent me to get food for our victim. The hospital actually has a fridge with food boxes in it that can be given to victims for free. We went ahead and filled out some paperwork to try to get $ for our victim to help pay for medical bills, travel expenses to and from court, and counseling.

Our victim was really talkative, but she was all about joking. She was laughing and saying silly things. She was glad that my partner and I both have some fat on us, because the advocates we’d relieved were both skinny. It’s the first time I’ve been with a victim who wanted to make light of everything. She said the other two advocates were too serious and she was glad we could laugh with her.

After about an hour and a half, our victim was finally given a bed, and they hooked her up to some monitors and gave her a hospital gown. A couple of hours later, we left her, hoping she’d rest. That was about 4:30 am.

I went home and slept for an hour or so, then I had to return my gear so the next shift could have it, and I will almost certainly never find out what happened to our victim. She may go back to her guy. She may move out of state. She may go back to using drugs. She may go to college. She may find a great guy to marry her and help her take care of her daughter. Her guy may be released with no bond, and he may kill her. Believe it or not, that’s not an unlikely outcome. This victim had a higher lethality risk than any I’ve seen. We always do a lethality assessment with intimate partner domestic violence victims. Victim advocacy requires a comfort with not knowing the outcome.


And then, I went home and slept. I slept off and on until 4:00 pm. It was glorious. I almost never have time to sleep after shifts like that.

Then, I got up, watched a series of lectures on Hitler, walked Moose, went for a run, ate dinner… and then I watched The Mighty Ducks and D2: The Mighty Ducks. It was a really nice recovery from the night before.

Now, I’m drinking coffee and writing. I’m loving that the air smells like Fall, even though it’s still 100 degrees out, and even though there are some terrible things that happen in this world, and in all likelihood, there are terrible things happening to someone in my city right now, I’m having a good weekend.



The Death of a Child, and My City

I met up with the two advocates I was going to be shadowing and the three of us made up Crisis Unit Adam 1. There was also a second group of three who made up Crisis Unit Adam 2, and the six of us went to a restaurant to await calls… or not.

I was a little afraid that we wouldn’t get a call, but then I felt guilty, as if I wanted someone to be a victim. Of course I didn’t want that; I just wanted an opportunity to see what I’d signed up to do. The other advocates assuaged my guilt by saying that there are always victims, whether the Victim Services teams are called or not, so wanting a call isn’t about wanting someone to be victimized; it’s about wanting victims to have support.

About five minutes into dinner, the call came. We were to relieve Baker unit on a DOA call (Deceased on Arrival) with a child victim.

There was a weight that came with going to a child’s death that was palpable, but mingled with a sense of, “This is what we do.”

We ate quickly, and the other advocates tried to prepare me. They let me know that I should feel free to step out if it was too difficult. They said that my well-being was a priority… and we hit the road.

When we arrived, we talked to the Baker Unit, who gave us the background on how the child passed away and some of the family dynamics, of which there were a ton – divorce and estrangement, medical issues, grandparents on both sides, and previous recent family deaths. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to share, so I’m going to keep the details to myself, but I will tell you that, although the child’s death was unexpected, the cause did not seem to be homicide. Law enforcement procedurally treats all children’s deaths like homicides, but this particular death was most probably due to illness.

So… we couldn’t talk to the child’s dad, who was being interviewed by law enforcement. We couldn’t talk to mom, because of some crazy, crazy circumstances. We couldn’t talk to mom’s parents, because they left about the same time we arrived. Therefore, we went in and talked with the extended family on dad’s side.

There were probably 15-20 people there who said they were cousins. We introduced ourselves: “Hi. My name is Betsey. This is Claire and Katie. We’re with Victim Services, and we’re here to be of help to you. Our entire purpose in being here is to help you with whatever you need.”


You would think there would be tears. You would think the room would be filled with pandemonium. A child died. I had never met the child, and I felt pretty stirred up.

The family, however, was almost completely unemotional. It was odd. In discussing the call after-the-fact, one of the advocates pointed out that she thought the family probably distrusts law enforcement and also distrusted us. Although we aren’t with law enforcement, we look pretty official. I was just wearing normal clothes, but the other two had polos with badges sewn into them. They had ID card things, plus law enforcement took us into the room with the family and helped with the introduction, so it makes a lot of sense that people who don’t trust cops would want nothing to do with us. They politely, but coldly told us that they didn’t need anything, so we said we’d step into another room and just be there if they needed us.

And we waited.

And waited and waited.

Standing in a tiny, stuffy room for something like two hours. We interacted a bit with a hospital social worker whose primary task was to get hand prints of the child to later present to the family. I saw the person from the medical examiner’s office, who was there with a camera and stood around the corner from us, just outside the room with the body in it. There were two police officers sitting guard over the body. One of the family members came out and asked us if the family would be able to see the body one last time, but we didn’t know the answer. Evidently, the medical examiner can and sometimes does refused to let families see a body.

And that was the extent of what we did for two (maybe even three) hours.

Then, the detectives let us know they were done interviewing dad, and we could talk to him. We went out and talked to him, and he was also utterly unemotional. He was worried about his cell phone, because the detectives had kept it. Another family member stepped in and politely asked us if we could just give them our card and go, which we did.

It wasn’t what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected, and I can empathize with the unemotive response. It’s a lot to process, but the lack of chaos and (for lack of a better word) drama was something the other advocates kept coming back to. They thought it was pretty unusual.

And all I can really think about is how much I want to go on more calls. I don’t think we made much of any difference to this particular family, but I can definitely see how it might make a difference to someone else.

All night, we listened to the police radio. There were people doing crazy things… a lady who was hysterical because she couldn’t remember where she’d parked her car, a guy with a machete, a drug deal going down at the Redbox, another DOA that Crisis 2 attended, and a major incident with a guy with a gun at an apartment complex. I think all of those things stuck with me more than the call in which I participated, because that’s what my city is like. When I’m not receiving training in Victimology and Victim Services, those things are all going on, unbeknownst to me. They are occurring at locations I frequent. They are always occurring.

Right at the moment, I feel like I’m doing the right thing with my life. I feel like this could be my niche. Who knows how long it will last, or if I’ll even make it through training, but for now, I feel like I’ve found my element.


Podcast Recommendation: Serial

I don’t lie. About anything.

I’m not saying that as some sort of braggery. In fact, one of the things I’ve been rethinking lately is the value of a well-crafted little white lie. Deceit, though morally questionable, is such a prevalent portion of our daily interactions that I honestly think I might get along better in this world if it would occur to me to lie occasionally.

“But don’t you think District 9 is a great movie?”

“No. I think it’s stupid.”

That’s actually how conversations with me can go, and, until this month, I didn’t see why that bothered anyone. I thought it was endearing. Another person’s hatred of my favorite movie doesn’t diminish my experience of the movie, so it really wouldn’t bother me if I had a reversed role in the conversation above. I may be bothered that my friend didn’t share the experience I had with the movie. I may even feel sad that my friend missed out. I may try to show her some of the great things she missed… but I’d never feel insulted that she had a different opinion from mine. Other people, I’m realizing, do feel insulted.

Considering that conversation and all the other conversations it represents, along with the people who don’t like me and occasions that have given me trouble in my life, I realize almost all of them could have been alleviated or avoided altogether with the skilled application of a few little white lies.

If I could just say that I’m busy when I’m not, then no one would get upset with me for choosing to sit at home rather than choosing to hang out with them.

I bring this up because I’ve been listening to a podcast that showed me how unusual my honesty actually is. The podcast is called Serial, and it’s the only thing my roommate has ever recommended to me. She occasionally tells me she thinks I might like this or that, but it was different with Serial. It was more like, “You need to listen to this. Your life is suffering from the absence of this amazing podcast.”

Not being a listener of much of anything – audio books, NPR, podcasts… just about the only thing I’ll listen to is sermons, and I’m not particularly consistent with those – so, not being a listener of much of anything, I didn’t run out and find the thing right away. However, I wish I had.

Serial is a twelve episode account of a real-life murder mystery. Fifteen years ago, Adnan Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. He is now serving a life sentence, although he maintains his innocence.

You should listen to the podcast.

Of course, there’s a sexiness to it, what, with murder, drug use, lies, and sex. Also, it’s a great time in the market for this podcast because everyone watches crime shows. In our house, it’s Castle and The Mentalist right now, but we’ve gone through everything from J-A-G to Serlock.

Serial, however, is better than all of those. It gets at a ton of the questions of human behavior. My obsession with it is the lies. Someone is clearly lying in the case, because Adnan says he didn’t do it, but the key witness says he did. There are also other lies, in which people are caught, but lots of those lies get dismissed as little white lies that don’t matter all that much. This fascinates me. As someone who doesn’t lie, I also never really suspect others of lying, and it would severely shake my trust in someone if I caught him in any lie.

I’m realizing, through listening to this podcast, that other people don’t take lies as seriously as I do. They act like some lies are natural to tell and hardly even count as lies, which gets me thinking: That’s why _______ doesn’t like me; she expected me to lie, and I didn’t. She took my honesty as blunt and insulting. You may think I’m exaggerating when I write this down as a significant epiphany… but then you’d be assuming that I exaggerate such things. I truly did not have any inkling of why anyone would dislike the things I say.

Beyond my own focus with the podcast, there is so much to think about… when Kendra and I talk about Serial, we key in on very different information. She’s not so interested in the lies as she is in the prospect of life in prison. She thinks about the injustice of wrongful imprisonment and she wonders how Adnan could even cope with it (if he is innocent). She also talks about how strange memory is. When those involved are questioned by police, Kendra keys in on how hard it would be to remember. Adnan’s conviction rests solely on his inability to account for a twenty-one minute window of time that he didn’t know was going to be important. In fact, he didn’t realize he was a suspect until something like six weeks after the day in question. Also, the girl’s body didn’t turn up immediately, so he says he just thought she was going to show up in a day or two. He says he had no reason to remember what he was doing for twenty-one minutes on a day when he didn’t even know his ex-girlfriend was in trouble.

Point: this podcast grips you. You should listen to it because the lies might not be your thing, and you may not delve into the depths of sixteen-years-in-prison, but there is something there for you. I promise. It’s a gripping piece of journalism. It has an excellent soundtrack. If ever there was a podcast to hook you, Serial is it.

Here’s your link to check it out.