Letter of apology from a murderer
June 13, 2012 6:50 PM   Subscribe

The murderer who killed my friend and attempted to kill me wants to apologize.

Please read this earlier question of mine.

I have received a notice the murderer has written and wants to send a "letter of apology" as part of a "...restorative justice model intended to hold the inmate accountable by accepting responsibility, making amends, and understanding the impact of his actions." The letter is addressed to me and the family of the murder victim.

I am unsure whether I should accept this letter, for several reasons:

1: I am not interested in correspondence with this person. Many years ago I made a decision to avoid giving him any of my time or thoughts beyond that which was necessary eg. the trial and parole hearing.

2: Whatever he says is meaningless. He is not apologizing because he is sorry. Writing an apology to the victims is part of his parole process.

3. I do not want the murderer or the parole board to think everything is now okay because he has apologized. This apology is for his benefit, not ours.

4: I am curious to know what the letter says even though I know it will not change how I feel and it will not bring me closure. I found that a long time ago on my own.

I have 3 questions:

- Have you received a letter like this? Did you accept it? How did you feel after reading it?

- Does my agreeing to receive the letter legally indicate approval or acceptance of the apology?

- Does my agreeing or refusing to receive the letter change or impact his chances for parole?

Please, no lectures about prison rehabilitation or why this person should be set free. He is a very dangerous man and needs to be incarcerated for the rest of his life.

Private messages or personal experiences may be sent to anon_mefi_187@hotmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
- Does my agreeing to receive the letter legally indicate approval or acceptance of the apology?

- Does my agreeing or refusing to receive the letter change or impact his chances for parole?
I have no particular insight into the rest of your questions, but the answer to these two specific questions is no.
posted by Lame_username at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2012

- Have you received a letter like this? Did you accept it? How did you feel after reading it?

No. But I have received a one-off, written apology from someone who hurt me (nowhere near murder hurt).

- Does my agreeing to receive the letter legally indicate approval or acceptance of the apology?

- Does my agreeing or refusing to receive the letter change or impact his chances for parole?

posted by smoke at 6:55 PM on June 13, 2012

1: I am not interested in correspondence with this person.

there's your answer. you don't owe him anything. do whatever you need to do to heal.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:55 PM on June 13, 2012 [19 favorites]

You can read it if you want to. That doesn't help him get out of prison.
posted by empath at 7:00 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want to know what it says. Read it. You don't want it to affect his parole chances. It won't, but you can reinforce that by writing to whoever/whatever agency has contacted you about the letter and indicating that your acceptance/reading of the letter does not signify any acceptance of his apology or support for his possible parole.
posted by uncaken at 7:02 PM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

My political position on prisons is about as radical as it's possible to get - far, far to the left of most mefites. However, even in radical anti-prison circles, we would never suggest that you have any obligation to someone who did you a terrible, terrible wrong. That's his burden to bear, whether he bears it honestly or dishonestly. You have a right to your anger. (Many of us would be skeptical of 'restorative' processes that do not arise from the needs of the community and the injured but are imposed by formula.)

If you want to know what the letter says, do you have a close friend (perhaps someone you trust but who was not close to you at the time of the murder) who would be willing to read it and tell you its contents in a general way, then answer any questions you might have?
posted by Frowner at 7:06 PM on June 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

Having been in a similar situation*, I disposed of every letter I received, despite my curiosity, and have zero regrets. I felt like reading the letters would've been like picking at wounds that were trying to heal.

*The letters I received weren't part of a parole process and it sounds like they were closer to the date of the incident than yours.
posted by Jacob G at 7:07 PM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have been sent a letter like this from someone who committed a violent (non-sexual) crime on me. I did not accept/open it, and I am very, very glad I didn't. The only person who stands to gain is him, not you, and you owe him nothing.
posted by brainmouse at 7:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [24 favorites]

I have not been in that situation, but I want to propose an alternative idea: you could perhaps ask that the letter be sent to a trusted third party, such as a lawyer or a member of the clergy. That person could, under your instructions, read the letter and summarize the contents for you, if you wish, or just hold it for a period of time while you consider whether to read it or not. That way you would not be directly accepting it but you would still have the possibility of satisfying your curiosity.
posted by Orinda at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

I received an apology from two members of the obstetrical team that in 2004 mismanaged my labour (failed to intervene) which resulted in my daughter fighting to live for 4 days and then dying. So not quite the same. But I can offer that experience.

Like you, I did not feel the apologies were genuine and the only meaning they held for me was that the individuals at least had to revisit that night and think about it. I was a bit worried that I would not be able to be a good person if I had to ignore a genuine apology...like there would only be two choices: Irrationally Bitter And Angry, or Capable Of Accepting Apologies And Forgiving. In fact there is loads in between and the apologies barely touched my process at all. (I am rationally angry from time to time, only bitter about a few things, genuinely as moved on as I think I could be, not consumed by it, and content to leave forgiveness to something omniscient.)

In other words reading the apologies dragged everything up for me, as the odd thing does, I got emotional all over again, the moments passed, and nothing fundamental was altered.

Do what your best guess is right for you. I am so sorry you have to go through this and it seems like this well-meaning parole thing failed to take the feelings of victims into account.
posted by Zen_warrior at 7:17 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Restorative justice has a higher degree of victim satisfaction than the other criminal justice models. This means that people in your situation have been surveyed as more satisfied with the situation than those not offered an apology/dialogue/etc.

I think, if you're curious, you should read it.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:21 PM on June 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

2: Whatever he says is meaningless. He is not apologizing because he is sorry. Writing an apology to the victims is part of his parole process.

While writing an apology to the victims is part of his parole process, this does not necessarily mean that he is not sorry or that his words are meaningless.
posted by box at 7:41 PM on June 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

You do not have to participate in a restorative justice process if you do not want to do so. Have you been contacted by prison or parole staff involved in the RJ program? In my experience, victims and families are usually offered support as they determine whether to participate; questions like yours are a common part of the process. You should be able to talk with someone in the prison or in a related position before you decide whether you want to engage with the perpetrator.

Disclaimer: it's been a while since I've worked in the justice system, but I don't think RJ models have changed much.
posted by catlet at 7:47 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a long story, but as part of my work I correspond with violent criminals and I sometimes ask someone else to read the parts of their letters that are particularly inflammatory, since I don't want to engage with them. And these criminals haven't done anything to me personally--I can't imagine what this must be like for you. You definitely don't have to read the letter, and doing so will not imply you've forgiven him. I will second box and say that you can't know whether he is sorry or not. Being in prison really can change people. That does not, however, mean that you have to accept the apology.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:01 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't want any contact with him, don't accept the letter. He tried to kill you- why even consider doing anything he wants?
posted by spaltavian at 8:13 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

No. Don't accept the letter. It's not for you to carry.

But, if you think your life would be better accepting his apology and it would let you heal, then just read the letter and decide then.
posted by Vaike at 8:13 PM on June 13, 2012

I did receive a letter like this ( the crime was less then what you are talking about ). I did not know what was inside, and read it . I felt dirty . I felt like he is again after me .
In fact, I started to feel suddenly worse and worse now , after thinking about your question, and memories begin to come back to me from many years back.
I knew that the reason for writing was to benefit him, he even did not try to conceal it.
The letter still tried to twist facts and produce new story that make it into my fault .
I think it is a good idea to read it not by yourself, but with help of capable person . Somehow I like lawyer the best. Maybe because lawyers can give you some strength .
I did not talk with any members of clergy about it then , or ever ; so maybe these people could be just as good .
I am so sorry .
posted by Oli D. at 8:17 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I do not think you should agree to receive the letter. I personally would make it clear that I did not want the letter, and send it back unopened.
posted by Joh at 8:50 PM on June 13, 2012

Accepting the letter is not accepting the inmate's apology.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:01 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think if it were me I would read it and if it fely icky and insincere I would write my own letter -- to the parole board, arguing that he is not rehabilitated and should not be let out, etc.

People do sometimes change. I had to make my peace with being raped as a child. I eventually did, in part because my attacker did, in his own way, try to make amends. I wrote about that recently on one of my blogs. Please email me if you want to read it. I am not comfortable emailing you to send you the link. Long experience tells me that if someone has not made their peace with someyhing yet, talk of forgiveness is just a slap in the face and salt in the wound. Been there, done that. I have no desire to do something like that to you.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 9:09 PM on June 13, 2012

I can put you in touch with someone who went through a similar situation many years ago. She received a similar letter from the man who murdered her father. Interestingly, she is now an advocate for restorative justice (but with a twist that she will be better able to explain than I can).

I'll send her information to the anonymous email account you listed. If you want to use it, feel free to reply to the email so that I can give a bit of an introduction (if you want).
posted by asnider at 9:16 PM on June 13, 2012

2: Whatever he says is meaningless. He is not apologizing because he is sorry. Writing an apology to the victims is part of his parole process.

If you read the letter, you'll be better off. Either (a) you will have additional evidence that this prisoner's apology is meaningless, or (b) you will have received a meaningful apology. I see it as a win-win. Either your beliefs are further confirmed, or you are left with a good thing.

Your post doesn't identify any basis for knowing whether the murderer is, in fact, sorry or not. (At least not to us. You might have additional knowledge about this point that you chose not to share with us).

The letter seems like it will be a good indicator of whether the murderer's apology is genuine, or whether it is insincere. I don't think you should exclude something (the letter) based on a premise that is unknown (genuineness of apology) when the thing excluded can help to confirm or deny the validity of that premise.

I only point this out to you with the huge caveat that this whole thing must be really difficult for you to deal with on a very deep, very basic, emotional level. You were the victim of a violent crime. You have my sympathies, and you obviously need not approach this in a rational or logical way, but only do what you are comfortable with.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 9:50 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's in the letter is whatever he thinks the parole board wants him to write in the letter. The letter is being written as part of this parole procedure. He's had access to paper, pens and stamps in the intervening years; if he felt remorse at any time up til now he could have used them. This is performance art. Do you want to read his performance art?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:56 PM on June 13, 2012 [11 favorites]

And also, I'm so, so sorry. About your friend, and your ordeal, and this stressful situation. Wishing you peace.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:57 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with the people suggesting that you pass the letter unread to a trusted third party to hold for you and/or to read and summarize the contents for you in a tactful way. In your place I would want that third party to be someone both in my confidence and able to judge professionally how the letter's contents could affect me: your victim's advocate, your therapist, and/or a close clergy member. If you are not currently in therapy or in contact with victim advocacy services, this is definitely worthwhile incentive to seek those again.

Restorative justice does have a better record for victim satisfaction. Remember that it is not going to be about "hugging it out" or trying to make you be friends or pen pals or whatever with your attacker. You are in control here.

You accepting letters from him or you going through restorative justice sessions will not affect his parole. In my uneducated opinion, I would assume it may give more weight to your statement if you do complete restorative justice sessions and still say, "No, I still want him to stay in prison forever": but I have no factual basis for that assumption whatsoever.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:00 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you have trauma from the incident. I am trying not to make any assumptions. But if you do, don't read it. It will not do you any good, and it will just bring the incident up again and again in your head.

I had something similar happen with a much lesser (Sexual) offense. It did not help.
posted by corb at 10:15 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

This seems to be a pretty long thread, I hope you see this.

I have two friends directly effected by violent crimes that included murder. Details below.

I'd love to ask them both this question on your behalf. Really.

- I suspect my more sarcastic friend who was shot in the head years ago and lived, although her date driving the car that night did not live, would say hell NO she would not read this letter herself. if a lawyer read it, that might be OK.

I've never asked her how she has handled parole hearings. I'll ask her this Sunday and report back to this thread.

- My other very good friend, her brother was recently gunned down by a sniper at a stop light. Yeah. I know. Sniper was caught, trial is upcoming.

She loved her brother like the day is long. She's also one of the gentlest human beings I have ever been graced enough to know. She was really fucked up a minute there. I LOVE her. To see her consumed with hate - wow. Did I try to talk her out of it? No. It's weird/understandable to me how she has bounced back in the past few months after the initial shock of her brother's murder. She's lovely. What can I say?

She's also very strong and centered. Although I'll ask her your question, I'll bet she would NOT read any such letter. Ever. Into eternity.

My advice to you would be the same advice to these people I love so much.

Yes go to the hearing if you can. No, do not read the letter yourself.


It's not about forgiveness, it is about your healing process AND the safety of others. Full stop.
posted by jbenben at 11:22 PM on June 13, 2012

Oops! I'll reply with my friends' take on your question to anon email address.
posted by jbenben at 11:24 PM on June 13, 2012

Here's my armchair analysis:

Your head doesn't want to give this man a minute of your time, which is understandable. Your heart is set on the opposite of forgiveness, which is understandable. You want him to stay put away, and you don't want to give him another breath of effort, which again is understandable.

The reality though, is that you're giving him a *lot* of time, even just via the thought and effort required to ask this question and read the answers and the turmoil over what to do. The very effort of NOT giving it time is causing you to spend a LOT more time, and the worst part is that nobody will know.

Here is what I propose:
The prison or court system WILL have a victims rights person. Or at least a victim advocate, or whatever, even if it's just a person on the parole board. Contact that person (in writing, hell, send it certified) and state that you will accept no letters, that you have no interest in communicating with or ever seeing this person again and that you feel that to do so would negatively affect your mental and physical health, and explicitly ask that they NEVER involve you in any such process again. Go on to voice that you would like it on the record that you stand in staunch opposition to his parole and would like this letter read into evidence at any and all future hearings, say that he has taken from you what will never be given back and that you refuse to allow him to take anything *else*, even your afternoons and tears. Again reiterate that you wish to never be contacted by anyone pertaining to this man or his case ever again.

You may choose to send this letter twice---one to the counselor at the prison in addition to the one to the parole board. For help on finding this person, you can call your local prosecuting attorneys office and ask for help. They'll do the legwork so you don't spend 45 minutes being bounced around internal telephone systems.

I say all these things for two reasons:
1. If you're going to spend time, spend it productively instead of creating internal turmoil with it.
2. Part of the rehabilitation process is understanding that you have permanently and irrevocably damaged someone and that they are under no obligation to forgive you. I say this as someone who has gone through the rehabilitation process, although not at prison and not for murder.

TL;DR: Tell the people who matter to leave you alone and that you don't support his parole now or ever.
posted by TomMelee at 5:40 AM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

About 13 years ago I was in a relationship with a man who was emotionally, mentally and sexually abusive. Sometime after I left the relationship he called and asked if he could send an apology letter. I agreed and told him not to expect a response. I told him it would not change my decision to axe him from my life. He sent the letter and a month later he was dead. I didn’t open the letter until the 10 year anniversary of his death.

I never told anyone I had it – not my dearest friends, closest lovers or his dearest friends and family. I needed the decision to read it to be mine alone with no pressure from anyone, speculation from others about its contents or the need to explain or justify my decision to anyone.

While I din’t quite understand at the time why I waited so long to read it, I realize now I was waiting until I could handle whatever it said and still come out whole and at peace with that relationship.

I won’t say if the letter was a sincere, empathetic, full responsibility accepting acknowledgement of the damage he caused or if it was of a piece of his manipulation and cruelty. It doesn’t matter. I read the letter and am every bit as happy, whole and peaceable in my life as I was before I read it.

I’m not at all suggesting that this compares to your circumstance. Whichever way your decision falls, if it is fully grounded in your own ability to be whole and at peace, it will be completely about you, not him, and it will be right.

That is my wish for you.
posted by space_cookie at 6:10 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Contact both the state parole board and the state victim's advocacy organization (or attorney general) for clarification on the nature of the program in which the prisoner is participating, and whether your actions will have any impact on parole. Victim's rights legislation is commonplace and you may have additional rights and remedies not available to the general public. Again, the AG's office is a good place to start. Good luck.
posted by moammargaret at 6:12 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chiming in on the "talk this over with victim advocates" suggestion. There are people who help others with this situation every day.

I am so sorry for your loss of a friend, and that your own life was threatened.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry for your loss and your ordeal.

No one has ever tried to kill me, but I have been raped -- by my brother when I was a child, and by another, later.

I have found a great deal of peace of mind from letting go of all interest in the inner life of the perpetrators. The essence of their crimes was that their reality was "real" and my reality was irrelevant. Trying to enter into their inner life was another way of making their reality the "real" one and my reality the one that had to bend.

You know what you want -- you want this person to remain incarcerated, and you want to stop thinking about him, ever. That's your reality. He's tried to bend yours once already.

I understand the position of people who are suggesting offering the letter to a trusted third party; personally I prefer the burnt bridge. "I never want to hear from you again. No backsies."

I wish you every joy under the sun and the deepest peace in your heart.
posted by Iphigenia at 8:05 AM on June 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'm so sorry for what you've been through.

Would it help to sit with a friend who could open the letterand read it aloud to you? That would create a little more distance -- you wouldn't have to look directly at it or touch it, and you won't get the words or writing stuck in your head. You could even have your friend summarize it, or just read a few lines.

(I did this when I got a breakup letter once -- which was far less traumatic and dramatic, obviously, but it really helped having someon there to help me parse the situation.)
posted by vickyverky at 10:41 AM on June 14, 2012

Not only do you not want this letter; you don't want contact. I don't know who you inform, but I would write to them, explain that you do not want contact, other than notice of parole hearings. They should respect your wishes.
posted by theora55 at 11:33 AM on June 14, 2012

also, even a false apology affects the way people think. Saying "I'm sorry I hurt you. I was wrong" affects the person who says it in a beneficial way, even if they are only saying it for a reward of some sort. However, it's not your job to benefit this person. He can write it, and it can sit in a file.
posted by theora55 at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2012

I think you should consider this purely as an interaction between yourself, as a victim, and the criminal justice system. Ignore any therapeutic notions or any considerations of the perpetrator. Inform the appropriate officials that you want absolutely nothing to do with this process, and use the opportunity to also tell them how you feel about the chance of parole for the perp.
posted by werkzeuger at 10:27 AM on June 15, 2012

I have never witness murder and I can't imagine it. I have been raped by a serial rapist holding a butcher knife to my throat.

That bastard is in jail and 10 years later I would be fucking damned to accept any sort of letter from him. Sorry, but not every action deserves forgiveness, and really if you read the letter, are you going to forgive this person?

I know that as a rape victim/survivor, every time I see a rape scene on TV or hear about a friend's house that got broken into, etc, that I start feeling kinda bad all over again and it takes several weeks to go back to "normal". I imagine a letter directly from my assailant would be like this, only times 1,000,000 and I think it would take quite a bit more than several weeks to go back to "normal" again.

Who knows what sort of satisfaction a sick fuck might get from that very idea? People don't go from being murderers to not being sick fucks, and we rational human beings will never be able to understand that.
posted by corn_bread at 7:58 PM on June 21, 2012

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