Brents has often said that by the time he was 9, his brain was broken.
What if someone had intervened in his life early on? A teacher? A neighbor? How could no one have noticed that boy who went to school with bruises, smelling like urine because he had wet the bed the night before rather than creep down the hall to the bathroom and risk waking his father?
If you help an abused child, you might be preventing a lifetime of pain—for more than one person.
So many people live in what I call “garage houses”—where the garage is the dominant feature. They pull up to their garage at night, the door goes up, their car goes in, and the door comes down. They stay inside their house until they leave the next day. They can’t tell you the name of the family down the street. They won’t interact and they sure won’t intervene.
What if we dared to care—without hesitation, without condition?
It’s a harsh truth that our society cares more if a sexual assault victim is the right kind of victim. Remember how police told Margaret the DNA from her case would sit on a shelf for at least two months? When Brents attacked victims in a high-income neighborhood, the DNA was processed within hours.
Lady Justice might be blind, but she can sure have a champagne taste.
Margaret and I talked often while her case wound its way through the court system. During a hearing in July 2005, Brents pleaded guilty to Margaret’s attack.
Like many survivors who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Margaret was terrified of leaving her house. She had flashbacks, nightmares. She couldn’t hold down a job. Her marriage fell apart.
On the day before the hearing, Margaret asked me to deliver a message to Brents for her, and I agreed. And this was her message:
“Tell him…I forgive him.”
It’s stunning, isn’t it? How could she forgive this man who wounded her so, who nearly took everything from her?
She said, “I’m not feeling bad for the man who tried to kill me, but for the little boy who had the same thing happen to him.”
And she said, “Hating is not hard. But if I go on hating him, I will never get over it.”
Then she added, “If it was me, I would want people to try to help me or try to listen to me and not just look at me like I’m an animal or a monster.
She inspires me. If Margaret can forgive Brent Brents, we can forgive anybody.
This case had a profound effect on my life.
It taught me that we’re all connected, and turning our backs on others is really abandoning ourselves.
It made me realize that I didn’t like the journalist I had become. It was actually Brents who pointed out to me that he and I had something in common: We were both driven.
I quit that job shortly after his case ended. I will never again work in a newsroom because the desperate competition for ratings is unhealthy for me, in many ways.
And I no longer knock on a survivor’s door unless I’m invited.
I began interviewing Brents because as a journalist who has spent a lifetime reporting on sexual violence, I wanted an answer to the question, “Why?”
He began as a bug under a microscope–and that’s what I told him.
He became a lesson in humanity and compassion.
Even so-called “monsters” have things they’re afraid of.
Brents wrote me about his. He said,
“My biggest fear is that I will die (pause) without ever having done anything good.”
That’s why I tell this story. Thank you for listening.
BRENT J. BRENTS — At age 13