Friday, February 6, 2009

Blaming the Victim

Last week, there was a suicide in the prison where I work. I didn't know the young man but the incident has affected me deeply. We disn't know a lot about the victim because he was new to our prison but, as in all suicides, the staff is asking what we could have done differently.

I've gone through the gamut of emotions this week - from sadness to anger to guilt to grief. My husband tells me that I can't control the whole world - I am not responsible for the young man's actions and yet there's a part of me that says, "if only" and "what if." My control fantasies are enormous, I guess. I need to let it go.

In the Way, we were taught that suicides were caused by devil spirits possessing the despairing person. There was no understanding that they may be clinically depressed and caught in the vortex of hopelessness, causing them to feel so desperate and helpless that they take their own life. Unfortunately it's not uncommon in prison.

But devil spirits? This young man was an addict. But he was also a son and a father, a brother and a boyfriend. He had witnessed the tragic death of his brother when he was sixteen. Before that he was an honor student - after that, he turned to drugs. Did the devil spirit cause the brother's death? The Way would say "yes." That's an easy answer to the hardest question. Why do bad things happen to good people?

I don't know whether the man was "good" or "bad", "possessed" or not. I am not here to judge. But I do know that being alive means to grapple with these unknowns and to live in spite of the uncertainty. To live. Blaming the victim is the easy way out - as is blaming myself or blaming the system or blaming anyone for that matter.

What can we learn from this incident? That is the important question- not who is to blame, especially the victim.