Thursday, October 16, 2014

Redefining Normal

October 14, 2013

I was in my office at the prison that afternoon.  It was count time, so the inmates were in their cells and the place was quiet.  My phone rang.  It was my husband.

"Uh, Robin, you need to go out to your car and check your phone." (cell phones are a no-no in prison)

"Why? What is going on?  Can't you tell me over the phone?" (all phone calls are recorded)

"Well...CNN is trying to get in touch with you."


My husband had a heart attck in May 2013.  He lost a lot of blood and had some problems with memory and cognition.  I thought the man must have lost about two pints of blood too many.  Why would CNN want to talk to me?  This must be a ploy to get me out of my office for some reason.  It made no sense to me.

"CNN?  What?  Have you lost your mind?"

"Just go check your phone Robin.  This is big.  Really big."

"Why does CNN want to talk to me?"

"It's about the rape case.  This is huge stuff, Robin.  Anonymous is involved.  Just go check your phone."

Thinking I was on a wild goose chase, I grabbed my keys and told our clerk I was going to step out of the institution for a bit.  I made the long walk to my car completely confused as to what was going on.  I'm a nobody.  A mom from Missouri with five kids, a boring life and I rarely even watched the news, let alone made appearances.

I got to my car in the parking lot and turned on my phone.  As the phone booted up, I was getting notification upon notification about missed calls and voice mails.  Oh jeez, what had I done?  The phone numbers on the call log were from everywhere.  Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New Jersey, they were all there.  I called my husband back.

"Ok, what is going on?  Really?"

"The article about the girls case has gotten national attention.  All of the news groups are trying to talk to you about it.  Anonymous is now involved and they released a statement saying they were going to go after the Nodaway County officials because of their handling of the case.  This is a big story."

I probably sat alone in my car for 15 minutes with my jaw resting on the steering wheel.  I didn't know what to think, feel, or do.  I hadn't told Paige that I had ever done an interview because I didn't expect anything to come of it.  I was also still in disbelief about what I was hearing.

As those of you who are regular readers of my blog know, my daughter, Paige, and her best friend, Daisy, were sexually assaulted in January 2011.  The case was a frustrating mess.  The charges against the boys involved were dropped, with the exception of the juvenile in the case, who pleaded guilty.  One of the boys was the grandson of a former Missouri State Representative and we were told and believed that political favors had been called in between the Prosecuting Attorney and the grandfather.  For almost two years, Daisy's mother, Melinda, and I had been fighting with the State of Missouri to rectify the situation to no avail.  We had come to a point in our lives where we were trying to move on and gain acceptance of what was and what would never be.

In March of 2013, I was contacted by a reporter for the Kansas City Star newspaper.  He was a young guy, very nice, but seemed inexperienced and a bit naive.  He asked to interview me about the case.  At this point, Paige was not involved with anything having to do with the case.  She was hibernating in her room every day and was not able to even go to school because of PTSD.  She was done talking about what happened, understandably.  I agreed to the interview with the reporter with the condition that he not use my name or Paige's name in the article.  He agreed to those conditions and we met at a local restaurant for an interview.  The interview lasted a couple of hours.  We had talked to media before, briefly, when the charges were dropped in the case.  For the most part, no media outlets wanted anything to do with our story.  We had reached out asking for help and everyone was either too intimidated by the circumstances, or they were not interested in talking with us.  Life goes on and we were searching for some type of normalcy in our lives.  Based on previous experiences, I had no hope or thought that this interview would be any different than the others.  This young reporter would do the story, the paper may or may not publish it, and we will continue with life as it is.

I found out the following day that I was wrong on all accounts.

I got to work on the morning of October 13 and was told by a co-worker that our article came out in the paper that day.  Apparently, the captain shack at the prison was all abuzz about the article.  Only a few people knew that the 13 year old mentioned in that article was my daughter.  I called the captain shack and told the captain on duty that day about the connection and asked him to try to curb the chatter.  He agreed.

After I looked through my phone and listened to voice mails from reporters from various news agencies asking for a comment, I went back into the prison to my office in total disbelief.  I found a sergeant with whom I was friends and I went into her office and shut the door.  I rambled on about CNN and Anonymous and WHAT THE HELL was I going to do?  I wasn't ready for this.  After speaking to my sergeant friend, I went to my boss.  He had no idea what I was talking about, no idea who Anonymous is and looked at me like I'd just told him that an alien spaceship had landed in my backyard. 

Driving home from work that night, I called Melinda.  Her son answered the phone and said she was in the dressing room and couldn't come to the phone.  I assumed she was clothes shopping.  When I got home that night, the TV was turned to CNN and Melinda and Daisy were on the screen.  It all felt so surreal to me.  I went to the bathroom and while I was emptying my bladder, a producer for the Anderson Cooper 360 show called me.  Who in the hell talks to Anderson Cooper's producer while on the toilet??  Me, that's who.  And there the strangeness began.

That night I went into Paige's room to break the news to her that I had done an interview with the KC Star and that things were blowing up in the media.  I told her she could choose whether we came out in public with our names or not.  She sat on the edge of the bed and with this pale, big-eyed look asked me simply, "Do people believe us?"  I said, "Yes, they do.  Lots of them."  She thought for a minute and said, "Ok, let's do it."

We spent the rest of that week doing media appearances.  One day we spent from 10 a.m. until Midnight interviewing.  Inside Edition called us at 9 p.m. and said they were sending a news truck up and wanted to interview us.  We were on CNN talking to Erin Burnett, Fox news, NBC, ABC, and Paige and I did an interview for Al-Jazeera network via Skype.  Things were moving so quickly, I didn't even have time to process what was happening.  Paige and I learned how to look at the camera and answer intensely personal questions posed by someone who wasn't even in the room with us.  The Dr. Phil show called and wanted us to come out ASAP to be on the show.  His producer was relentless.  I finally asked if the boys' families would be on the show as well and was told they would.  We declined the interview based on that news, and they continued to pursue us.  We accepted an interview with 20/20 and got ready to fly out to New York that weekend. 

We were living paycheck to paycheck with nothing to spare.  A few of our friends pitched in and gave Paige and I some spending money to take and money to cover the cost of checking our baggage at the airport.  The night before we left, I was packing to go and my phone was either ringing or sounding a notification constantly.  I hadn't taken the time to really think about what we were doing.  We just accepted almost every interview offer we had because we didn't really know any better.  Never having worked with the media or been in a position of momentary "fame,"  this was all foreign.  That night I finally gave myself permission to shut my phone off and sleep. 

The trip to New York was interesting.  It was the first time Paige had ever flown.  She held my hand during take off and when we landed at LaGuardia.  We had drivers take us to the airport and pick us up at the airport and shuttle us to our hotel, which was right on Times Square, next door to the musical, "Chicago."  One week prior to this, we were just Robin and Paige.  Nobody knew who we are and we never even considered the idea that we would soon be all over international news and in an upscale hotel on Times Square.  We really didn't ask for the attention and weren't sure what to think of it.  We didn't have time to think. 

In New York, our companion from 20/20 took us all around Times Square.  We loved it.  We ate authentic Indian food, shopped in the stores, and saw Times Square at night, fascinated by the culture of the city.  We stopped at a street vendor who was selling "I <3 20="" a="" about="" absolutely="" actually="" agreed="" all.="" an="" and="" anything="" at="" back="" be="" because="" cheap="" constant="" day.="" day="" details="" did="" don="" emotional="" family="" flew="" for="" forget="" gathered="" get="" go="" got="" had="" hadn="" handling="" her.="" here.="" home.="" home="" horrible="" hotel="" how="" huge="" i="" interview="" interviews.="" isn="" it.="" it="" just="" later="" life="" looking="" meltdown.="" merchandise.="" more="" nbsp="" new="" next="" night="" no="" not="" notice="" of="" on="" ou="" our="" p="" paige="" questioning="" recounting="" room="" said="" same="" say.="" see="" she="" some="" something="" souvenirs="" t="" taken="" taking="" that="" the="" there="" thing="" this="" time="" to="" toll="" total="" trip="" up="" us="" wanted="" was="" we="" well.="" were="" with="" would="" york.="" york="" you="">
Of course we all took a lot of criticism for talking to the media so openly.  We quickly found out who our friends were and ones we thought were friends before were jumping ship like fleas off a dog.  When we started turning down interviews, the interest in us waned and life returned to some semblance of normal.  I turned down an interview with People Magazine and we were still saying "no" to Dr. Phil almost daily.  I got back to work the next week and the inmates were all telling me how they saw me on TV and that I was "famous."  Co-workers were giving me the play by play of what their friends and family were saying about the case, asking about the people we had met and our experiences.  The week after we returned from New York, I lost my job in a rather dramatic way and ended up on a mental health unit at a local hospital.  That story is fodder for another blog entry at a later date, but you get the idea.  I had hit fork in the road and there was no turning back. 

Now a year later, life has returned to a new sort of normal.  Paige is finally back in school and we no longer have reporters calling or knocking on the door on a regular basis.  We recently spent time with a documentary film company who is looking to feature the girls in a documentary project.  It seems like a good project and worthy of our time, but I must say that being in front of the camera again is disturbing.  At some point after a big event like this case, you just want to be yourself again.  Paige wants to be Paige, a junior in high school with a boyfriend and homework.  I just want to be Robin.  Not Paige's mom, not the angry mother on the TV, just Robin.  People still contact Paige and me from time to time and tell us how Paige's story has inspired so many girls to tell their own stories about sexual assault.  I have been told numerous times how brave I must be and how proud of Paige I must be.  I am very proud of Paige.  As far as bravery or strength goes, I guess that's in the eye of the beholder.  Most of the people saying that were not around for our meltdowns or screaming matches or crying fits.  Being considered a role model or an inspiration to others is heavy business and I am always astonished when people know my name or contact me because they heard the story.

Our lives will never be the same as they were before the media blitz.  Melinda and I have heard crazy stories about how we have been offered book deals and movie deals and how we are making a lot of money off the girls story.  These things are not true.  All we want is for our girls' stories to be remembered.  We don't want this all to be in vain.  If we helped one person make peace with something in their own lives, it was worth it to me.  We did meet some really awesome people I now consider my friends and had the honor of people telling us their own stories.  After this past year and many changes, we are still figuring out and redefining normal.