The Victim Impact Panel, organized by Mothers against Drunk Driving, was unlike anything else that I have had to go through as a result of the DUI. Perhaps I feel this way because it was the most unexpected.
You see, going in, I did some research about MADD. MADD is an organization that is anti-drunk driving and anti-drunk drivers. They attempt to influence individual states into enacting tougher penalties for people convicted of drunk driving. And as such, I expected one of two situations (a) a severe guilt trip; or, (b) anger. In either case, I didn’t have much choice – it was court ordered, and a natural consequence of my offense. Therefore, I went in hoping that the next two hours would pass quickly.
The next two hours were a blur. It was an experience that was truly personal, and actually pretty moving. There were three speakers: the first one was a MADD representative that spoke about drunk driving statistics, and the impact drunk driving has on the community I live in. This was really an introduction for what was to come.
The second speaker was an individual who served 8 years in prison for manslaughter – he killed a young woman after drinking and driving. He was about my age when his accident took place. For over a decade now, he has been speaking at VIP sessions trying to prevent DUI convicts from drinking and driving again…because the next time may end up in a tragedy similar to his. But the one thing he said was just amazing – he said that his worst fear has been coming face to face with someone close to his deceased victim. He had dreaded it for the last 18 years. Last time he saw someone close to her was at the trial. Then just a few months ago, he recognized someone from the trial at a VIP. It was the deceased girl’s best friend who had been a constant at the trial. The friend was now herself convicted of a DUI herself.
The third speaker was a mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver. Her college-aged son was driving home to her – and his vehicle was hit head-on. The kid died instantly. She described how her son was an excellent student, how he loved her cooking, how he always came home after school…and how much she missed him. There was not a single dry eye while this lady spoke. She herself could not hold back the tears. But instead of hating a room full of drunk drivers, she talked to us like she would talk to her son – she told us that we must do the right thing and not drink and drive again. And she begged us to honor her son’s memory by not driving and driving. This took courage on her part.
So comparing expectation vs. reality – the MADD session was nothing like I imagined. There was no finger pointing. There was no guilt-tripping. There was no angry mother telling us how to live our lives. Only respectful illustration of facts and request to not make the same mistake again.
I walked away with three things from the panel that I think are worth noting down:
- The people convicted of drunk driving in the room were from all walks of life. Drinking and driving is not a segmented problem. In pseudo-legal terms, I’d say the room was full of a representative cross-section of the society.
- That everyone in that room was supremely lucky – the fact that we were in the room, and not in jail, meant that we had avoided a tragic ending.
- You can find compassionate people anywhere. No, no one condones drinking and driving. And no one condones what I did. But even those deeply affected by drunk driving (victim and drunk-driver alike) care for you and care for the society. And they want you to not make the same mistake again.