A letter to a criminal

2008-10-29 00:00

I received a call while I was at work; it was the police telling me that they had my daughter’s wallet, taken from a suspected burglar. The wallet contained a piece of paper that I had tucked into it, on which I had written, “Mom” and my phone number. I raced in my car to get home, praying that everything would be okay. The house stood silent as I unlocked the door. With my first step inside I could see the house had been trashed, but I couldn’t see the dogs, and then I was off, running through the house, calling them, searching every room. I couldn’t breathe; I just wanted to see those precious little faces. The only room I had not looked in was my bathroom — the Collie’s place of refuge from every storm. The door swung open and there they were, huddled together in the tub. The moment they saw me they began a wild, high-pitched keening that seemed to shake the whole house. And then the police were there, asking me what was missing.

Months later, standing in court to give evidence, I was asked the same question. What was missing from my house? My hands and voice began to shake while the tears rolled down my face. The prosecutor asked me to answer his questions as calmly as I could to help obtain a conviction. I looked around at the accused, at their families, and I looked at the public gallery which had filled up with people. I was thinking about my daughter, who, since the day of the burglary had not slept a night with her window open, who had not been able to be alone in her own home, even for a minute. Pointing at the accused, I said to the prosecutor: “And your job, sir, is to make sure that these people know that when they break into houses, they do not just steal our stuff. They steal the happiness and sense of security of our children, that parents spend their whole lives building up. They make it so that our children can’t sleep at night in their own beds. You ask me what is missing from my house — that is what is missing; that’s what they have stolen.” I had not noticed the crowds go silent, but when I had finished speaking, I heard their gasps.

As the accused men had opted to provide their own defence, they, as well as the prosecutor, would be questioning me — clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog. Does anybody know what it feels like to have the perpetrators of a crime against you stand up in court and say to you: “I put it to you that I was at ‘work’ that day, and therefore I could not have been at your house.” Yeah, right, then what the hell were you doing with my things? Three months later, I received a call to say that a conviction had been obtained; the two men had been sentenced to three years in jail.

This is not the end of the story. Since then, my elderly parents have three times suffered the same, my sister, my brother, and my niece too. My son was hijacked at gunpoint, my brother twice held up by armed robbers and a friend was murdered during a hijacking — he was just 20 years old. My sister-in-law was raped at knifepoint in her home. My car has twice been broken into. My nephew had a vehicle stolen from him. My ex-husband has been held up twice by armed robbers at his place of work.

Even that is not the end of the story. My beloved daughter, who still today cannot sleep with a window open, now lives in another country, while I am here, brokenhearted. And so, even years after you have served your time in prison, Mr Criminal, and are no doubt continuing to “work” at other people’s houses, I am still paying the price for your crime, and adding up the things that are missing since you went to “work” in my house.

* Mary F is a pseudonym.

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