Let­ters to my fa­ther’s killer helped heal my soul

New York Post - - NEWS - By CARYS CRAGG

‘DO you know any­thing about the of­fender?” a friend asked me af­ter I told her how my fa­ther died. I tell her what I tell all new friends: that in 1992, when I was 11 years old, a young man, high on drugs and look­ing to steal some­thing, broke into my fam­ily’s home in the mid­dle of the night and picked up a kitchen carv­ing knife on his way up­stairs. As my fa­ther awoke, a strug­gle broke out. This man stabbed my fa­ther and ran away, found by the po­lice soon af­ter. My fa­ther died hours later in the emer­gency room, while I sat in the cor­ner of my neigh­bor’s bath­room, knees tucked up to my chest, shiver­ing and wondering: What just hap­pened to my world?

At the time, my fa­ther was train­ing to be­come an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon, fol­low­ing more than a decade of a suc­cess­ful fam­ily med­i­cal prac­tice. My par­ents, sib­lings and I moved cities and built a life in our new com­mu­nity in Cal­gary, Canada. As he stud­ied and worked at the uni­ver­sity and hos­pi­tal, we were em­braced by our neigh­bor­hood. We walked to and from school, made new friends, at­tended sports and mu­sic prac­tice, ate meals to­gether and played out­side, just as so many fam­i­lies do.

We spent sum­mers sail­ing and win­ters ski­ing. My fa­ther built fly­ing foxes, doll­houses, vi­o­lins and even a cabin on a lake, all be­cause he was cu­ri­ous to learn how. We watched him, learned from him and wanted to be like him, wanted to em­body the joy he car­ried around.

My life shat­tered into pieces when this young man en­tered our home and de­stroyed our world. Noth­ing was the same.

NINE­TEEN years later, in 2011, I sat across from a new friend as she asked about the of­fender. There, I be­came aware I had a win­dow of time left on his 25-to-life, sec­ond-de­gree-mur­der prison sen­tence where I could con­tact him with the guid­ance of a pro­gram I’d heard about over the years: the restora­tive-jus­tice vic­tim-of­fender di­a­logue model. It was here, I soon learned, I could ask my unan­swered ques­tions. Why did he come to my house? What was his life like be­fore the crime? Why did he lie about who killed my fa­ther for so long? Did he un­der­stand what he took away from my fam­ily?

I knew a few things from read­ing the news­pa­per clip­pings my mother gave me, a few years af­ter the crime. “In­truder stabs doc­tor to death.” “Ac­cused killer fin­gers best friend for the crime.” “Doc­tor’s mur­derer sen­tenced to life term.” This in­for­ma­tion and the hand­ful of times my fam­ily spoke of the of­fender was all I knew. In that silence, he hadn’t be­come a mon­ster. Rather, he be­came a ghost, and I re­al­ized I could form my own opin­ions as to how I wanted to re­spond to the crime.

Through the pro­gram’ s restora­tive-jus­tice work­ers, I wrote my first let­ter to the in­car­cer­ated of­fender.

This was the first of 15 let­ters ex­changed over the course of two years, from 2011 to 2013, from the Pa­cific coast of Bri­tish Columbia to the prairies in Al­berta.

‘DEAR Carys,”

his first let­ter be­gan. He wrote that he was “sur­prised and ap­pre­hen­sive.” He didn’t “want to deal with any kind of con­fronta­tional ret­ri­bu­tion or witch hunt.” I quickly re­al­ized I would need to clar­ify my in­ten­tions. He wrote:

I have many things I’d like to say, ask, clar­ify, and un­der­stand — but for the pur­poses of this let­ter, I guess what I’d like to do is in­tro­duce my­self ... My name is Carys and I am the el­dest daugh­ter of Ge­of­frey Cragg, the person whose death you are re­spon­si­ble for. I was 11 years old when you came to my house and when you shat­tered my world into pieces.

Our lives did come crash­ing to­gether. Not by choice mind you, but by the self­ish greed and drug-de­pen­dent com­mon crim­i­nal that broke into your house that night, and mur­dered your fa­ther. The de­tails of this will come out in time.

He was right. De­tails un­folded and ex­panded over time, where he took more and more re­spon­si­bil­ity for his ac­tions. In these let­ters we wrote about our­selves, our work and child­hoods.

From what I can re­mem­ber about my child­hood there was not enough food in the cup­boards, but seemed that there was al­ways enough money for drink­ing. We wrote about fu­ture plans and mis­un­der­stand­ings. He said:

It’s amaz­ing that the things I fear the most are out there, and if I’m cor­rect the person you fear the most is here. I would like to change that; I can stare down three men will­ing to tear into me with reck­less aban­don­ment. But I can­not look you in the eye if I ever saw you face to face. To which I re­sponded:

I promise you, what I fear the most in life is not you, but rather it is los­ing peo­ple I love . . . If we ever meet face to face, I hope that fear is not an emo­tion that is in the room.

THESE ex­changes con­tin­ued and with each let­ter we dove deeper. My fa­ther. The crime. The af­ter­math.

There is noth­ing I can do to change what hap­pened that night. Hope­fully I can honor his life by mak­ing the most of mine. I replied:

You say that you can honor my dad’s life . . . but I don’t be­lieve you can do this un­til you know my fa­ther. I feel it’s a good time to ex­plain a lit­tle of who he was and who he con­tin­ues to be.

I was dev­as­tated to learn, like so many of­fend­ers, that he knew noth­ing about my fa­ther. How could he be held ac­count­able for his crime when he didn’t know whom he’d taken away?

Even­tu­ally, I felt safe and com­fort­able enough for us to meet. When I ar­rived at the prison, my only hope for my­self was to feel what I needed to feel. An­gry. Up­set. Con­fused. Sat­is­fied. Peace. It was all there.

That day, he shared the es­ca­lat­ing of­fenses he’d been com­mit­ting be­fore that night. He also shared that 12 years af­ter the crime, he asked to go to a psy­chi­atric re­mand cen­ter, where a sup­port worker, who of­fered him a safe and re­spect­ful space, chal­lenged him on his con­tin­ued lies.

Af­ter that meet­ing, the let­ters con­tin­ued. Ac­count­abil­ity. Truth. Em­pa­thy. For­give­ness. I wrote:

Even you con­sid­er­ing com­ing into my home was an un­just act. Know­ing it was a fam­ily neigh­bor­hood. Know­ing peo­ple, chil­dren, were in there. I even wrote to him what I was sorry for.

I’m sorry that you never had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a fa­ther like mine.

I knew that if he’d been brought up with peo­ple who cared deeply for him, he never would have bro­ken into my house, try­ing to sur­vive the next few days.

YEARS later, I at­tended a num­ber of pa­role hear­ings, where his ap­pli­ca­tions for un­escorted ab­sences and day pa­role were first de­nied and even­tu­ally ap­proved. He was re­leased on full pa­role this past fall, af­ter 25 years of in­car­cer­a­tion, show­ing im­proved in­sight and a good plan to in­te­grate into the com­mu­nity.

“Do you think he un­der­stands?” friends ask as I re­turn from hear­ings.

“I think he un­der­stands the best that he can,” I say. “And that is not good enough.”

De­spite com­pli­cated feel­ings, I am sat­is­fied with the out­come. As I re­flect on his full pa­role, I am re­minded of what I learned in the let­ters: In or­der for me to be well, I needed him to tell me what he had done, and in or­der for him to be well, he needed to hear how what he’d done im­pacted me. That was the irony of it all: Our well­ness be­came de­pen­dent on each other.

When my fa­ther died, I sat shiver­ing in the cor­ner of my neigh­bor’s bath­room, wondering what just hap­pened to my fam­ily.

I felt an un­ease en­ter my body. It whis­pered: I wasn’t safe, I couldn’t trust any­thing and I didn’t de­serve to be happy or cared for.

Af­ter two years of cor­re­spon­dence, I re­al­ized I had pushed him as far as he could go; I was look­ing for com­pas­sion, just as I had of­fered to him. When I didn’t get that, I wrote it to him:

Maybe I should just show my­self some em­pa­thy, re­al­ize that I have no con­trol or re­spon­si­bil­ity in this case. It is what it is.

As I fin­ished the last let­ter I would ever send to him, I felt the un­ease I had been car­ry­ing around leave my body. And I have never felt it again.

‘SHAT­TERED’: Dr. Ge­of­frey Cragg holds his daugh­ter, Carys, in 1983, nine years be­fore he was killed by an in­truder in their Cal­gary home.


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