Note from Amy: Here is the next excerpt of the transcript of my TEDx talk:
Police caught him a few days after Valentine’s Day. At the start of that weekend a detective had gotten him on the phone and said Turn yourself in, you little punk. Brent Brents essentially replied, Come find me. That weekend he raped five victims, including two children, and nearly beat a young woman to death. The DNA from those cases was processed within hours and the manhunt that followed ended in a dramatic car chase into the mountains, where police captured him at gunpoint.
This kind of story causes a media feeding frenzy. Reporters swarmed the jail, but I didn’t —I didn’t think it would do any good.
Instead, I sent him a letter on plain stationary—handwritten, two sentences: Dear Brent, I went to Arkansas where I talked to your mom and sister. If you were to ask them, they would say I treated them with dignity and respect, and I will do the same for you.
I then gave him the number to the newsroom and told him to call collect anytime. And because I figured he’d be getting a lot of hate mail, I added a note to the back that said: Please don’t be afraid to open this.
At the end of that week police released a statement about another confirmed victim of Brents. Since they protect the identity of a victim of sexual assault they will only release the cross streets close to where it happened.
Get thee to those cross streets, you and a photographer, editors said. Find this anonymous victim, and get her to talk to you.
So off we went to those cross streets and we found…a sea of rental units, like giant Legos, for rows and rows in either direction.
We knocked on doors for hours—no luck. It was close to dark when we saw a woman walking her dog—dog walkers are always great for information—and she said the handyman had told her about a woman who’d been attacked and she gave us the handyman’s door number and he gave us the victim’s door number and I knocked and a man answered and I saw this tiny, dark-haired woman hiding behind the door and I identified myself and she came out and said, “You scared me.”
Her name was Margaret. And she told me her story. Her attack was nearly three weeks earlier and she still had yellow outlines of bruises on her neck. She was coming home after running errands when Brents had rushed her at her front door. She had seen him before-she figured he had stalked her for about three days. She fought him, and he beat and choked her before he raped her.
Margaret pointed to her couch, which had a big chunk cut out of the upholstery. The police had taken it for evidence because that was where the rape had happened. When you can’t afford a new couch, and you can’t afford to break your rental lease and move—and Margaret couldn’t—then you have to live with reminders of your worst nightmare.
She said the police had told her it would take about two months to process the DNA. They gave her no hope of solving her case. Then she saw a story about Brents being wanted on T.V. and recognized his mug shot as her attacker.
One of the last things she said to me that night really struck me. She said, “I hate him, yet I still feel sorry for him. An animal, poor creature.”
A week later Brents called me.
One of the first things he said to me was, “I’m not going to give you anything.”
I love it when people call me and say I’m not going to talk to you. “OK!”
Then he said he had one question for me, and anything further depended on my answer.
And he said, “Everybody says they hate me, that I’m a monster. Do you think so?”
And without thinking I said, No, I don’t. You’ve done monstrous things, but I don’t consider you a monster.
And that’s how we started a correspondence. I did so on one condition: that he tell me the truth. In one letter he wrote, “Don’t trip I’ve actually stood two feet away from you in an elevator” and rolling my eyes I pulled out a piece of paper to fire back that we had a deal, so don’t try to b.s. me—when I realized it had indeed been him on the elevator that day, the man who had stared at me and whose very presence had caused me to run to the newsroom like a frightened rabbit.