Unexpected Gifts

The week before the dialogue, I went into San Quentin to meet with the Katargeo group I had been working with for many years.  I wanted to ask the men: “If it were you sitting across the table from me, what would you want me to ask?”  I knew that the men I was working with would give anything to have this opportunity with their victims, and I wanted to include them in my journey.  After all, they had a lot to do with it.

We met in the education building, a long walk thorough the prison grounds from the front gate to the middle of the prison, passing through the exercise yard where we were noticed by every inmate on it.  Once in the building, we all said our hellos and began moving chairs into a circle for our time together.

Once we were all seated, each of us checked in to report how we were doing.  Then, once Jacques made announcements, he told the men we were there because I was going to the dialogue the following week, and I thought it would be helpful to talk with them before I went.

What emerged from the discussion was that the men did not have specific questions they would like to be asked in a dialogue.  What they did emphasize was that my walking through the door to have a dialogue with Mark Taylor was the amazing part.  They also felt there should be enough time for him to tell his story.  They said I must be very strong and brave to talk to the man who murdered my son.  “You must have a very open heart to be doing this,” several said.  They all hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I told them about the schedule for my dialogue so they would know when it was taking place, and they all voiced they would be thinking about me the whole time.

Before I left, I asked to come back the next week and tell them about my experience.

The evening before the dialogue, Gary and I drove down to Coalinga where we met Jaimee and Rochelle.  We all stayed at a hotel near the prison, went to bed early – Rochelle, Jaimee and I needed to be at the gate of the prison very early in the morning – and I actually slept.  When I awoke the next morning, I was amazingly calm and had a large breakfast, knowing we would be in the prison most of the day, and even in stressful times I get HUNGRY!

Gary wasn’t allowed to be with us, so he stayed behind and spent the day visiting local food banks to help them find ways to procure produce.  Even though he couldn’t accompany me to the dialogue, I was glad Gary was close by for the heart support.  And because the confidentiality agreement I would have to sign once I entered the prison exempted family, I knew debriefing with him later would be a positive experience.

It took us all over an hour to get cleared, sign papers and get through all the gates to our destination.  Then we were taken into a very small room off the main visiting area.  The room had a window through which the guards on duty could see us.  The five of us – Jamiee, Rochelle, Mark Taylor, his support person, and I­­ – sat around a table so small, our elbows almost touched.

Because of the confidentiality agreement, I cannot share with you the details of the time we spent in that very small room.  What I can share with you is that I experienced both disappointment and relief.  I had not been sure all these years if Mark Taylor was REALLY the man I thought he was.  I had only met him for five minutes when he became my son’s housemate at school.  The next time I saw him was at court proceedings.

I realized at some point in this process that I had been thrown into a relationship with Mark against my will, and I needed to come to a place of comfort, so the relationship did not haunt me.  I can understand terrible mistakes.  If Mark had made a fatal mistake when he killed Christopher, and if he had taken responsibility for his actions – I would be able to understand.  But the dialogue confirmed my beliefs about his character.  It was like getting a fresh report card ten years later, and the grades had not changed.

Despite this disappointment, I felt a deep sense of relief.  I knew that Christopher was proud of me.  As well, finally I felt comfortable with the relationship with Mark Taylor.  Yes, he would still be a presence in my life, but he needed to work on his life and I could not help him with that.  During the dialogue I tried many times, but he did not open that door for himself.

What made me saddest is that two lives had been lost.  My son, Christopher’s, who was murdered and Mark’s, the murderer, who chose to live his life in prison and not add anything positive to the community there.

I was extremely tired on the way home.  I made phone calls to my dear family and friends, telling them I was fine, very tired, and that as far as Mark Taylor was concerned, nothing had really changed.  Once home, I slept on and off for a few days, just needing to be quiet and absorb what had happened.

Early the next week I went back to San Quentin to see the men in the Katargeo group again.  I again walked the long path across the prison, under watchful eyes of guards and inmates, to the Education building.  We pulled the chairs into our circle, sat and all held hands, taking a moment to bring ourselves fully into the room.  Here again I had to be mindful of the confidentiality agreement, but I did share my disappointments and my relief.

I was amazed at what came next:

One inmate told me that he started thinking about me at the time I would be walking into the prison to see Mark.  He imagined it was he who was about to experience his victim’s mother arriving.  He shared that he realized that he would have positive things to say to her and that he was proud of this.  He knew she would need him to tell his story and take full responsibility for his actions.  He knew she would want to hear him say he was so terribly sorry and have it come from a true place in his heart.  He was deeply sorry for everyone the tragedy had touched.  He could only imagine all the grief and trauma he had caused her, her family and community.  He had been working on being a more aware and kind human being and could tell her that.  Then he thanked me for this surrogate experience.  He felt experiencing this through me was the closest he would ever get, and he was grateful.

Another inmate said, “You planted the seeds and you will never know what sprouts from them.”  He then added, “You need to know that may be the first time in Mark Taylor’s life that he has sat across the table from a mother’s love.”

Being with the Katargeo group, before and after the dialogue was the best part of the dialogue for me.  Another unexpected gift.

Unexpected gifts come from places you would not imagine.  I received gifts of words, wisdom and comfort from men in San Quentin.

My mother used to say ”Everything dovetails.”  My father used to say “Better late than never.”  I doubted both of these adages until I was in my late teens…….and now, I repeat them both to other people!