Friday, June 24, 2016

From a mother with a disability to one who grew up with it: My letter to Brock Turner’s Mother

From a mother with a disability to one who grew up with it: My letter to Brock Turner’s Mother,

         I confess I haven’t been at my best with your son’s case. It was so easy for me to use you as an example of someone that is nothing like me. At first, I only read “the worst” parts of your letter (the complaints about decorating.)  But, the more I read the letter the more I realized that we are alike. I’m a mom. I love my family more than anything. I love my community. In fact, the recent events in the media made me decide to bring my family to church. (Godless Unitarian Church because I am, after all, one of those California people.)

         I saw that you had a brother with a disability. You used him in your letter to show Brock’s kindness as you have every right to. I mean, you gotta use what you have. I know I would talk in my college admissions about my going back to the hospital where I stayed after my orthopedic surgeries. I went there for “to give back to kids more disabled than me,” because, goodness knows, I wasn’t really one of them. But here is the thing. I was one of them. Because, really I'm like you, a suburban mom, AND I'm a person with a disability too. 

But there are things that bother me. Things that you seem to think make us different and ways that I feel we are different. 

First I have to get your story about Brock selling popcorn to a woman that was too disabled to eat it. 

You talked so much about Brock sacrificing for achievements.  Everyone sacrifices for their achievements. That’s why they’re achievements. You should know from your brother that people with disabilities have to work so hard for just any achievement (walking, reading, eating food with no teeth.)

Honestly, there is one story you tell about Brock that makes me feel like we are very different moms. It isn’t going to be what you expect. It is the story you tell proudly of Brock winning yet another competition. He wanted to be the TOP SELLLER in Boy Scouts. So, he sold an abundance of popcorn to a 90-year-old woman who had no teeth.

         This here achievement doesn’t make Brock special. To me it shows he’s manipulative and competitive. Granted we are very different people in the regard. To me it shows that this might be how Brock really treats people with disabilities, or people who are disabled, (like incapacitated) when he wants to win something. I’m not saying it shows he is a rapist. I’m sorry to say the evidence shows that.

         You brag that while she couldn’t even eat the popcorn Brock was “so charming” and “respectful” that she just had to buy the popcorn from him. Now, maybe you’re right. Maybe this was a great experience for this woman to have such a great privilege to talk to your son. But, I can’t help but think that your son was taking advantage of her. He wanted to win. He sold her something that she couldn’t use so he could win. He convinced her. Maybe he was charming, maybe he was pushy. Maybe she really just wanted him to go away. I don’t know.

But, I know you shouldn’t be bragging about this. Being “charming” to win something isn’t being kind to someone. There should be no pride in getting what you want from someone that may be lonely or an easy target. As you had a brother with a disability it kind of freaks me out that you don’t see this. Also, your a nurse so this really freaks me out that you don't see this  That woman was a person, not someone that Brock could use to reach a goal.
         You’re brother had a limited mental capacity. You and he were very different. He could never achieve what you achieved no matter how hard he worked. Maybe you set out to achieve a lot being the sibling of a disabled person. This happens, this feeling to overcompensate to make up for the grief your family felt for a disabled child. I can’t imagine what your family went through caring for your bother and then losing him. When Brock connected to your brother he was connecting to another person. Not just an object that he could use for inspiration, or a lesser person.   

Brock was an almost Olympian he is probably the most able bodied person there is. You say he can’t be a rapist because he has worked so hard for this. Brock’s ultimate goal is to be an orthopedic surgeon. Meeting these goals wouldn’t make him a good person. They would just make him physically and economically superior. They would give him power over the rest of us, much like you as a nurse.

 It would have been an astounding achievement to ultimately work with people with disabilities.  Some people say he can still be an orthopedic surgeon. I’m sure to you it would be just after all the suffering. They make bank. My middle class parents paid off orthopedic surgeons for years. But, that wasn’t your point. Your point was that Brock is kind to the weakest of people, those with disabilities.

 I hope he continues that kindness despite not getting all the reward he wanted for it because that is what actual kindness is. I hope he can learn to always be kind to people that have less power than him even when things don't go his way. I know you feel powerless right now and he does too. But, you actually still have a lot of power. I think that is why us people who have been truly powerless are so upset.  

When you are in the medical profession and working with us people with disabilities please remember we are people too. 

You mention how hard you all work and how Brock always wanted to make something of himself. He was so successful. Surely, working harder than everyone else should give you at least something. Some kind of pass. 

         Nope. Sorry. Mom to mom trauma victim to trauma victim I will tell you it is: LIFE IS NOT A CONTEST. Life isn’t fair. You can be working hard and following all the rules and you can fuck up and hurt someone one time—one time—and you still have to pay. I know all about this, life's unfairness. 

When I wasn’t much younger than Brock (high school) I started out golden with grades. Then had a lot of depression and PTSD. (I also had untreated ADHD.) I probably committed what you would think is the ultimate sin: ... I stopped working hard! 

This had consequences: I couldn’t go to some top tier college. I had to go to summer school a lot. People thought I was a loser. They didn’t give me any free passes because I had been working so hard for two years. Maybe this was the only time I was ever like over achieving Brock. Even with having surgeries I worked and worked to make sure I was ready for high school.  Part of why I stopped the hard work was because, like Brock now, I was traumatized and depressed. The reasons were different. I had trauma. 

Of course this has nothing to do with your son. Maybe I'm not so great??  Maybe I don't come from a good hard working family?? Maybe I come from the fast-moving city life you refer to?"

I'll tell you: My family loved me as much as you love your kids.  I come from the most suburban place you could imagine. The house I grew up in might have been bigger than yours. Granted my trauma is much more like the trauma of your son’s victim. Again we aren't holding a contest here. It's just... much of your letter to Persky talked about the Brock's hard work and his winning of contests and it kind of won Persky over, didn't it? Brock is only going to serve 3-6 months. I imagine it doesn't feel like a win. 

If life were a contest of who deserves more I would go with your son's victim. I would be phoning in for it would be her. I think about her all the time as a mother would think of a daughter, even though she has taken care of me more than I could ever care for her. Her letter was life changing. I almost don’t feel worthy to write to her or about her. You didn’t seem want to write about her either in your letter to the judge. I think you know, in this world, and in this time: her letter wins. 

But, life isn't a contest, and I'm glad because if it was people like me would always lose. People with disabilities usually lose contests. So do a lot of other people like people of color, drunk girls, old ladies with no teeth. 

You wrote about how Brock made sure he won first place for a boy with a mental disability during his time volunteering for the Special Olympics. You said he was so upset when he came in second once while trying to WIN for this kid with a disability. You do realize that if Brock always wins someone else loses, right? When he did come in second that day other kid working with a kid with a disability was able to win. 

 When Judge Persky let Brock off with 6 months and when you and your husband complain about his suffering you are saying his victim's life and safety is worth less than his life.  

Funny thing I bet you and I grew up in similar towns: 
Towns where people overlooked me and my friends' cries for help around sexual assault and bullying. People overlooked so many rapes where my friends had been drinking. Including my friends themselves. Maybe you think it was better this way? Maybe you had a "rough night" with a town hero you want to forget. Maybe not. Maybe you think that only happened to girls worth less than you. Here's where we may be different because I would NEVER think that. I know every victim could be me.  Maybe that's just because I'm not a winner. I can assure you that many other sexual predators will be getting away with their abuse. Some of them will be good people most of the time. All of them are responsible. The survivor is not responsible.

 I am worth something. Your brother was worth something. Every sick person you see is worth something. 

Every person is worth something and has a right to not be assaulted. 

It doesn't matter who their abuser is or what they have done before or after. It doesn't matter who the survivor is and what they have done before or after. 

The girl your son assaulted is my hero.   In some ways it makes me sad that my hero is fifteen years younger than I am. I know she is probably able bodied and upper middle class and white, like Brock. But she is so different from him. She is so different from you because when she wrote her letter and started her "small fire" she included everybody. She didn't talk about how she was somehow special.She was speaking for every survivor that couldn't speak. Every poor rape victim that can't write. Every one with a disability. Every one of color. Every boy, cisgendered, or trans person. All of us that that has been sexually assaulted or bullied and was made to feel that it was or fault. 

 It's the time of my daughter who won't have to grow up in the rape culture that I did. If I had a son it would also be the time of my son.

It's time for all of us to win even the losers that had to work hard just to survive. 

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