Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims

Overview

Author Howard Zehr presents photographic portraits and the courageous stories of 39 victims of violent crime in this groundbreaking book.

Are victims of crime destined to have the rest of their lives shaped by the crimes they've experienced? ("What happened to the road map for living the rest of my life?" asks a woman whose mother was murdered.) Will victims of crime always be bystanders in the justice system? ("We're having a problem forgiving the judge and the system," says ...

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Overview

Author Howard Zehr presents photographic portraits and the courageous stories of 39 victims of violent crime in this groundbreaking book.

Are victims of crime destined to have the rest of their lives shaped by the crimes they've experienced? ("What happened to the road map for living the rest of my life?" asks a woman whose mother was murdered.) Will victims of crime always be bystanders in the justice system? ("We're having a problem forgiving the judge and the system," says the father of a young man killed in prison.) Is it possible for anyone to transcend such a comprehensively destructive, identity altering occurrence? ("I thought, I'm going to run until I'm not angry anymore," expresses a woman who was assaulted.)

Howard Zehr presents the portraits and the courageous stories of 39 victims of violent crime in Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims. Many of these people were twice-wounded: once at the hands of an assailant; the second time by the courts, where there is no legal provision for a victim's participation. "My hope," says Zehr, "is that this book might hand down a rope to others who have experienced such tragedies and traumas, and that it might allow all who read it to live on the healing edge."

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Editorial Reviews

Susan Herman
“This book is a powerful wake-up call.”
 

  “These beautifully written, moving stories communicate powerfully the depth and complexity of every victim’s individual experience with crime. Each profile not only reminds us why we should listen to victims, but challenges us to embrace a new vision of justice.

“Howard Zehr has given us a book with truth and wisdom on every page.”


Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime, Arlington, Virginia
Tom Kennedy

This book is essential reading. I defy anyone who reads this book to remain indifferent to the issues it raises. I applaud Dr. Zehr’s efforts to bring clarity to this process by offering victims a chance to tell fully their side of the story.

“This book is a powerful wake-up call on so many levels. We no longer have an excuse for avoiding the issues this book raises. I hope it can be used to enlighten, inform, and encourage discourse about the kind of society we want to inhabit.”


The Washington Post (former Editor of Photography for National Geographic)
Cheryl Guidry Tyiska
“This book is a graphic acknowledgment that crime can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, at any place. It is also an elegant reminder that none of us knows how we will react to our own victimization or that of other people, and that each of us has our own vision of what justice truly means.”
Director of Victim Services, National Organization for Victim Assistance, Washington, D.C.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Howard Zehr is widely known as “the grandfather of restorative justice.” Since 1996 he has been Professor of Restorative Justice at the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA, an international graduate program for justice and peacebuilding practitioners. Howard has published several other portrait/interview books including Doing Life: Reflections of Men and Women Serving Life Sentences and Transcending: Reflections of Crime Victims (both with Good Books). He has authored numerous other books and publications; best known are The Little Book of Restorative Justice (Good Books) and Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. He is a frequent speaker and consultant on justice issues in North America and internationally. Zehr has also worked professionally as a photographer.

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Read an Excerpt

My ex-husband Tom had chosen not to see Jennifer and David at all from January to September, 1994. Then in September, out of the blue, he started wanting to be part of their lives. Something changed, and I thought it was positive. Christmas Eve day he picked them up, and he was probably in the best mood I had ever seen him be in. The next morning we found that he had stabbed Jen and Dave, then killed himself.

    Little did I know, until after it all happened, that he had an actual checklist of everything he needed to do. The last item was to kill Jennifer and David. He thought David was the devil and Jennifer was an angel. We found out later that he thought he was God and that he was doing some kind of wonderful thing by saving them from this life.

    The only constant I had after that was my job. I didn’t have Jen and Dave. I couldn’t bear to stay over or sleep in my home, so I lost my house. Friends that I thought I had weren’t friends. It was like starting at zero.

    I had constant panic attacks and I really struggled with suicide. I replayed things—my ritual was to get in the tub every night and play everything over and over again. I put myself in Jennifer’s position. I put myself in David’s. Jennifer was killed first and didn’t know what happened. The hardest thing was what David was feeling at that moment; how could any father do something like that? The what-ifs were just endless for me. The visions and memories overwhelmed me because nothing made sense.

    People didn’t know what to do so they avoided me. People thought that if they’d bring up the subject, they’d hurt me, so our relationships just faded. I needed people who were associated with Jen and Dave. But as time goes on, sometimes I feel that that group of friends expects me to stay sad; they don’t want me to move on. I think I’m disconnecting with them.     I enjoy company with my friend Carol and others who never knew Jen and Dave. It helps that she has victim experience, and she just takes me for who I am. I can just be me, and it’s okay that I want to enjoy life. When I see Carol, there’s no association with Jen and Dave. Now I don’t need somebody to generate memories because they are inside me—Jen and Dave are here right now. They are constantly with me.

    Now I don’t need to dwell on what happened. No matter how many what-ifs, I can’t bring them back. In my mind I have a china cabinet with glass doors and there’s a key to it. Fairly often I open my china cabinet, and I take out Jen and Dave. I go through what happened to Jen and Dave, but in order to be okay I put them back in. I put them away and close the door, but I’m only closing the door on that tiny part, the murder. I have such good memories and I have a presence of them here. They are here, they’re with me, and they leave me signs all the time. In the beginning, I felt I had no right to be happy. That was a major struggle. How can I be happy when I don’t have Jen and David? Now I can say that I’m happy, although I’m not as happy as I could be. I know I go down a lot, but not as often. When I go down, sometimes I can’t explain it and sometimes it’s because of a trigger. At Christmas I go down severely. I don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

    I don’t think I’d be here without my present husband Paul. Anytime I had thoughts of suicide, he always wanted me to tell him. Instead of being angry at me he’d say, “Just talk about it.” Sometimes talking and putting those thoughts out there made me feel better. He was a real pillar. And staying busy was important. I started running with my husband and we trained for a marathon. By the end of the day, I’d be completely wiped out. I think I took a lot of frustration and anger out that way. I read a lot, too; it helped me to know that I was not crazy. And I never had a pet before, but this guy—this cat—made a huge difference in the grieving process. Animals know when you don’t feel well and just come up and cuddle on your chest.

In my dreams I’ve killed Tom a good two dozen times in some of the grossest, most gruesome ways you can imagine. I’ve tortured him to no end. Then I’d wake up very upset. You don’t think you’re capable of killing, but in those dreams, the trigger clicks so easily! I know they’re just dreams. That’s not me. I don’t think I would hurt anybody, but how do you know until you go through it?

    I’m not totally in control yet, but I decided that I didn’t want to just exist. I value life, and for Jen and Dave to be so shortchanged in life, I’m going to make up for them. It’s like the three of us are in the routine together. They’re with me, and it would be wrong for me not to value life. What would they think of me if I didn’t value my own life? I need to make up for what they would have offered. I’m not going to fix or change the world, but, while I’m here, I’m going to make a difference. They’re with me, and they’re proud of me!

    Do you know some of the things I’ve done? The first was to start a golf tournament in memory of Jen and Dave, and now we also have a silent auction. This year we expect to raise $50,000, and all the proceeds go to domestic violence programs.

After Tom killed Jen and Dave, I learned he had been stalking a disc jockey in Lancaster. She had called the police and written two letters saying that she was afraid for his children, and that the mother should be contacted. My first question was, “Why wasn’t I ever notified?” That’s how the Jen and Dave Law came about. The law is passed now and says that if two people are in a custody situation, each has the right to find out about the other person’s criminal activity. I was appointed by the governor to the Victim Service Advisory Committee, and I now manage the Compensation Division.

    Redbook did an article and asked me why I do these things. My response back then was because I’m selfish. If it benefits other people, fine, but that’s an extra. Now, as time goes by, I’m starting to feel differently. It’s not just for me anymore.

    I’m different now. I feel that I have an advantage over my old self. When I said “Don’t sweat the small stuff” before, I was just saying it. Now I have it in my heart. So many things don’t mean anything to me anymore. I have lots to keep me busy, but I’m not in a real hurry anymore. And I have people skills that just came out of somewhere. I don’t know if they were always there, but now I don’t just deal with the task, I deal with the person.     I joke with a friend of mine that I know I need to forgive, so when I’m on my deathbed and there’s only five second left, then I’ll forgive him. There’s surely no need now. What’s the purpose? God tells you that you need to forgive, so I’ll just sneak that in right at the end.

    Eighteen months later: Through recent experiences, I’ve come to realize the darkness and anger that are still in my head, and the amount of energy they take from me. He has ruined my past. I’m beginning to toy with the idea of forgiveness so that I don’t allow him to destroy my future as well.

        — Lynn Shiner
© Good Books, Intercourse, PA 17534
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Table of Contents

About This Book — Howard Zehr
  Part I. stories and reflections of crime victims 
    1.   All the rungs on a ladder are removed. 
    2.    “For so many years, nobody believed me.” — Janet Bakke   
      3.    “I have to live with the fact that I made that decision.” — Donald Vaughn 
        4.    “We were not only responsible for our own grief, but for the community’s.”                     — Barbara Ayres   
    “There’s nothing like murder to make you really, really look at yourself.”  
         5.    “What happened to the road map for living the rest of my life?”                     — Debra Franke     
    6.    “You’re getting all this support, and one day it’s over.”                     — Pam & Robert Ayers     
    7.    “Murder is like cancer, the ‘C-word.’ It’s taboo.” — Amy Mokricky    
    8.    “When the trial was over, we had to deal with each other.”                      — Emma Jo and Herbert Snyder     
    9.    “I needed to find my way.” — Louise Williams   
  “It’s like destroying the old structure and rebuilding.”   
      10.    “I needed to decide whether to live or not.” — Kim Muzyka     
    11.    “People want to define me by my adversity and grief.” — Frank Silovsky    
    12.    “You don’t know how you’re going to respond until you’re in it.”                     — Sherri Brunsvold     
    13.    “I was stuck on April 19, 1995.” — Bud Welch   
      14.    “I fell into this deep dark hole with no steps.” — Susan Russell   
      15.    “The jury found him not guilty. I was devastated.” — Ricardo Wiggs   
  “The light of hope for me is that justice will eventually be done.”     
    16.    “He has become an obsession with me.” — Deborah Brucker     
    17.    “Justice is knowing and acting on the truth, and I don’t know the whole truth.”                          — Joseph Preston Baratta 
    18.    “Was it something I did that contributed to her death?” — Vincent Torres    
    19.    “It affects you viscerally. You’re on the floor with it; you’re incapacitated.”                      — Keith Kemp     
    20.    “I’ve had some anger that one of the offenders walked.” — Leland Kent 
        21.    “All of a sudden you realize you’re not in control.” — Juan and Martha Cotera  
   “We grabbed onto all sorts of things as we were falling. One of these was forgiveness.”  
       22.    “Rage—that’s hate with a lot of chili sauce poured on it.” — Charles Nipp  
       23.    “I couldn’t park my angers, my fears.” — James Kostelniuk    
    24.    “We’re having a problem forgiving the judge and the system.”                     — Conrad Moore   
    25.    “We were falling into a dark abyss, frantic to find footholds.”                     — Wilma Derksen  
“Shaking hands with Charles . . . that’s the hand that held the gun that murdered my son.”  
       26.    “Every time my life was getting back in order, he would appear on TV.”                     — Paula Kurland   
    27.    “It’s like a twister coming through your house.” — Joanne Vogt  
      28.    “I couldn’t seem to feel good about myself.” — Diane Magnuson  
       29.    “You’re always kind of looking over your shoulder.” — Sandy Houtz  
    30.    “I would wake up every morning thinking, ‘I hope he dies today.’”                     — Thomas Ann Hines    
    31.    “It was either I kill myself, or I feel something.” — Bion Dolman  
  “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where there’s more than one way to put the pieces together.”    
    32.    “I thought, I’m going to run until I’m not angry anymore.” — Penny Beerntsen 
       33.    “The real Sandy was full of shame and hate and fear of rejection.”                      — Sandra Murphy   
    34.    “My life is different in so many ways.” — Jacqueline M. Millar    
    35.    “I could see my hands going around his throat, killing him.” — John Sage 
       36.    “I was angry and came in contact with many angry people.”                     — Patricia Roberts-Gates    
    37.    “You have all these little numbers, but none of them work.” — Ellen Halbert   
    38.    “It was my fault and I’m no good. I’ve been tainted.” — Gayle Macnab     
    39.    “What are you trying to tell me? What am I missing?” — Elizabeth Jackson 
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2002

    Exquisitely Helpful

    Can a book about crime victims be described as ¿beautiful?¿ In the case of Transcending, by Howard Zehr, the answer is a resounding yes. Transcending is a beautiful collection of personal essays and striking photography that explores the intimate feelings of victims of violent crime. Dr. Zehr, an internationally known advocate of restorative justice, proves again with this book that he is a leader in this area. More than many of his colleagues, Zehr holds steadfast to his belief in the importance of victim¿s rights and needs. While his contemporaries are inclined to move quickly into the benefits of restorative justice for the offender, Zehr maintains a conviction that victims must always come first. As I read Transcending, I could imagine Zehr demonstrating acute listening skills with the survivors he interviewed. I suspect he may have squirmed at times from what he heard; such as a resistance to forgiveness by some survivors, an act Zehr advocates as a peacemaker and a proponent of the Mennonite faith. By declining to edit out bad grammar and even strong expletives that may be difficult for some readers, Zehr has maintained the integrity of this project. My only criticism of the book is that it includes primarily those whose loved 0ones were murdered. Victims or child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and drunk driving death and injury should have their voices heard, too. Zehr is fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, who said, ¿Transcendence is the only alternative to extinction.¿ Either one moves toward getting better or is slowly killed by the killer, too. The 39 survivors who share their stories here make the choice ¿ sometimes after a long personal war in darkness ¿ to press on and make something meaningful from their experiences. Because their brief stories, usually 3 or 4 pages in length, are direct quotes, the collection is powerful and honest. The integrity of the words, coupled with the artistry of Zehr¿s images, result in a sense of having the victims in the same room. As readers, we can almost feel their arms around us and hear their words of encouragement. They seem to be saying, ¿I think you can make it, too.¿

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2001

    Tell it like it is!

    What I like most about Mr. Zehr's book is that it lets those who were affected by crime tell their own story. It also focuses on the journey afterwards, how these people reconstructed their lives out of the chaos and their pain. Mr. Zehr's photographs don't let you ignore the person who was hurt; their journey is inescapable when you look into the eyes of his portraits. In an age of instant and constant bombardment of images it is amazing to sit and contemplate what his camera discovered. What these people say cannot be denied by anyone, not the courts nor the perpetrators. It seems as if his pictures are saying 'We are whole human beings who are not defined by what has been done to us. We have been shattered but not defeated!' What a tribute to the dignity and perseverance of the human spirit. Congratulations on a job well done!

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