Thank you, Your Honor, for this opportunity to address the court. We are here this morning to replay an all too common American story. It is indeed a tragedy in which a mentally disturbed person becomes violent in an American school. It happened on the morning of December 15, 2011, and by your own admission to this court, you, Ronette Ricketts, attempted to murder me in the hallway of Poughkeepsie High School, a place I love deeply. It was our common workplace for nearly thirteen years. By your own admission to this court, I, in no way, provoked you to stab me repeatedly with a Phillips head screwdriver. Despite what some may have read or heard on hate websites or may have been exposed to by inept journalists, I did not on that day and have never made derogatory remarks to you or about your race. I find such language repulsive. Ms. Ricketts, by your own admission to this court, you were mentally disturbed when you approached me that day and tried to kill me. Up until the very moment you attacked me, I believed that we had worked successfully through sometimes rough waters to become friendly coworkers. In fact, I had told many people how competent you were and how well we worked together the year you served as English Department Chairperson. While we were not close and I sometimes wondered why you seemed to be so unpredictably aloof, I viewed you as an intelligent and articulate colleague with whom I was on good terms and for whom I had respect. I had no idea that you feared that you were going to lose your teaching job. I had no clue whatsoever that you had expressed that concern openly to more than one person close to you. In fact, that idea would have been totally foreign to me and I would have expressed to you strong disbelief that you would EVER lose your job had you confided in me. On that morning, I was simply on my way to the library to get ready to teach my English class. Smiling the entire time, you approached and asked me to go with you into the English Department Office, where there we no security cameras. You said we needed to talk. I said I would be glad to talk with you, but I didn’t have time right then because the bell was going to ring signaling the start of my class. I did ask, however, what you wanted to talk about, but you never answered my question. You began to stab me. From images the hallway security cameras DID record, it took about ten seconds for you to destroy my life. Cindy Glozier, as I knew her, died that morning. With all the force you could muster, you plunged the screwdriver into my throat, just missing my carotid artery and causing my throat to swell closed on the left side. You plunged the screwdriver nearly through my right breast and into my head. Luckily, the head shot did not crack my skull. You plunged the screwdriver deeply into my left front shoulder twice, deeply into the back of my right arm, and deeply into my back eleven times. You just missed my spine. The power with which you delivered the blows to my breast, back, and shoulder was so great that I had circular bruises from the handle of the screwdriver around each wound. The soft tissue damage and resulting pain in my left shoulder were so great that I could not move my left arm or pick up anything without a great deal of pain and difficulty for several months after you stabbed me. I had only one defensive wound. Your screwdriver grazed my left thumb. For the first time in 14 years, my physician, Dr. Kristina Otero, was grateful I had not heeded her constant advice to lose weight. She told me that I would be dead had I NOT been overweight and had I not had extra protection covering my vital organs. Had my fellow English teacher David Laffin not stepped in to save me and then been assisted by student Justin Richardson, even my obesity would not have kept me alive. I am forever indebted to Mr. Laffin and forever grateful to Mr. Richardson. Ms. Ricketts, you stabbed Mr. Laffin, too, but he did not let that stop him from saving my life. He came right back to halt your murderous rage.
Ms. Ricketts, your attack forced me to spend two days in intensive care and three additional days after that at Saint Francis Hospital, for whose trauma team I will be grateful forever. While in the hospital, my partner Roberta and two former students, Clara Wille and Robin Angstrom, stayed with me around the clock. Stunned and very drugged, I could not have functioned without the love they provided right after the attack. During the next 10 months, with the help of Dr. Mark Aierstok, physical therapist Dean Havner and his assistant Denise Gardner, I worked with intensity to heal my shoulder and today I continue physical therapy at home and in the gym to regain full strength in my left arm.
Yes, I was hurt physically, but the damage you did to my body cannot come close to matching the near destruction you delivered to my mental health. At first, a strong mix of pain and anti-anxiety medication served to assist the abundance of adrenalin in my system resulting from the attack. This potent cocktail made me just happy to be alive, at times giddy in fact. But within three weeks, I began to suffer Acute Stress Disorder. I had multiple panic attacks on a daily basis and I still suffer them when faced with situations that most people would not find stressful, but that I find debilitating. Now diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I experience distrust for nearly everybody and every situation, uncontrollable bouts of anger and distress, fear of being alone in my house or alone anywhere else, and terror of the darkness of the evening. I quake when I walk from my driveway to my front door at night alone. The replaying of your walking up to me with a smile, talking with me, and then striking me flashed before me every five minutes for several months after the attack. Since the attack, I have not been able to sleep through the night, and when I do sleep, I have nightmares that include attack after attack after attack. Loud noises terrify me and cause me to panic. The news from my psychiatrist that I will never work again brings great sorrow. I know that it would be impossible to avoid triggers from trauma that could arise in ANY workplace and my experiences with such triggers currently disable me on the spot. I desperately miss teaching teenagers and the intellectual challenges of my former profession. With the exception of my family members, I am only really comfortable face-to-face with my former students and their families, at events related to their lives, and with members of my therapy team. Facebook serves as my community. It keeps me in touch with people I care about without the stress of having to be in the room with them. My thoughts have little organization and sometimes my actions have even less. I suffer an inability to process information as quickly as I did before the attack. I do not communicate my thoughts as clearly, and I cannot perform complex mental tasks with the alacrity I once enjoyed. For the first time in my life, suicide seemed like a viable option after you tried to kill me. As is often true with those who experience violent trauma, I thought your attack was in some way my fault. Despite weekly sessions with two therapists and regular treatment from my psychiatrist, I considered killing myself at least once every waking hour of every single day during the first eight months after your attempt to murder me. One night in late February I was so violently agitated that I wound up in the St. Francis Hospital Psychiatric Ward for fear I would hurt myself or someone else. Despite that intense and unrelenting pain and confusion, there have been strong forces working to keep me alive. God, the giver of life, has made it clear to me that I have no right to end MY life. I didn’t choose when to come here and it is above my pay grade to choose when to leave. My partner, Roberta, displays countless acts of love in celebration of my life. It is vastly clear to me exactly who my true friends are, and their love lifts me up. A patient and skilled team of medical and trauma professionals, Dr. Paul Schefflein, Debbie Heath, and Chuck Ketchel, and an equally patient Assistant District Attorney, Marjorie Smith, have all insisted that my life has been saved for some important reason as yet unknown to me. Ultimately, my faith in and openness to God has saved me. God brought back from heaven the healing love, laughter, and wisdom of my father, Bob, and my grandmother, Irene. God provided me with the constant love and patience of Roberta. God spoke through the highly motivational influence of my energetic and forever forgiving 79-year-old mother. God made me listen to the steady and healing care of my sweet brother Mike and his kind wife Gail, and pay attention to the loyalty of Roberta’s always helpful son, Adam. God spoke through my cousin Kelly’s wisdom and the heartfelt prayers he offered up along with those of his wonderful wife, Donna. God reconnected me with the passionate support of my brother Mark, and his honest and enthusiastic wife, Janet. God made me fully understand and appreciate the consistent protective and maternal nature of my dear, kind friend Peg Anderson, and the sheer loyalty and love of the entire O’Neill clan, Tommy and Marcia and Emily. God led me to reconnect with the powerfully supportive personalities of my Georgia friends Kat Yancey Gilmore, Angi Steipel Case, and Lisa Clark Bagwell. God -- no matter how each person in this courtroom defines such a higher power -- brought me an expert trauma team to lead me to end ALL prospects of me ending me. God brought me all the people I have named and a host of other loving characters from my past and present to save me FROM me. I may be severely damaged, and I may still suffer the crippling effects of PTSD, but I finally have hope of recovery one day, and suicide has disappeared as an option on MY menu. I continue to fight this searing mental disorder with every bit of energy that I can muster. AND I WILL OVERCOME IT with a lot of help from all the good people that surround me!
Ms. Ricketts, I fully understand that a person CAN become hopeless and CAN be mentally ill. Just like the gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, who delivered up so much death and suffering, you have given me a case of what I believe to be our country’s most misunderstood and all-too-common communicable disease: PTSD, a real and life shattering mental disorder brought on by violent, unexpected, and unwarranted trauma. I fully comprehend the intense stress of teaching and life in general, and I know such stress could result in a break from reality for those, like you, who are already bearing the burden of deep mental disturbance. I know in my heart that you WERE mentally ill on the day you tried to kill me. Because I have been blessed to experience the power of God’s connection to the human spirit, the love of family and friends, and the healing practices of gifted and dedicated mental health professionals, I know that something WAS terribly wrong with you on that day. You were mentally and spiritually disconnected from all that you love and all things good in which you believe, and from those who love you. For these reasons, I forgive you for the terror and pain you have delivered to me and for the debilitating suffering your actions continue to cause me. Also, I forgive the people who were close to you who failed to understand the depth of your mental illness and failed to recognize your hopelessness and failed to hear and act upon your obvious cries for help. Through their lack of knowledge about the signs of dangerous mental distress and through their tragic inaction, they did you a grave disservice by not demanding that you seek immediate psychiatric treatment. I believe the same kind of failure to act that led to my attack resulted in the loss of those precious souls in Connecticut last month. People knew the killer was in trouble. They did not act because they did not know what to do. It is a sad fact that those with mental illness all too often have to commit violent crimes to be properly diagnosed. That is why it is time to make mental health education, treatment, and services part of the common fabric of American life. We have lost too many wonderful people because fear and shame lead us to ignore the broad spectrum of mental diseases that CAN be treated BEFORE violence erupts. Continuing to hope mental problems will go away or pretending they do not really exist at all WILL LEAD TO EVEN MORE PAIN AND SUFFERING. This is an epidemic of illness; a disease, not evil. As with any epidemic, we must move forward from being shocked by it to taking action to treat it.
Ms. Ricketts, my forgiveness allows me to offload the vast energy it takes for me to focus on your pain and clears the path for me to focus more clearly on my own mental healing. Forgiveness offers me the ultimate freedom to begin to separate myself from that horrific December morning. It is my hope that you will be able to forgive yourself one day for destroying a way of life that I very much enjoyed.
As I continue to work with my therapists to process the mental damage that your mental illness has caused me, and as I struggle to piece together a new life for myself, I hope this court will mandate that you continue to receive psychiatric treatment while in prison and while you are under post release supervision. You and I will need significant treatment, perhaps for a long time, perhaps for the rest of our lives. Let it be known that today there are no winners in this courtroom. Violent acts are not sporting events. Everyone touched by such violence loses. The victims of mental trauma may look okay, as I do today, but INSIDE their world is shattered and mired in paralyzing pain and confusion, as mine has been and continues to be.
This is a day filled with personal sorrow as I witness a mother leave a son I know she loves, a daughter leave a mother I know loves her, and a woman I know to be gifted, yet deeply troubled, lose her freedom. We learn from this sad, sad event that within our communities we MUST do more to address the mental health crisis that is tearing up lives like ours. We know more about the human brain now than ever before and it is time to use that knowledge to prevent acts of violence like the one you committed, Ms. Ricketts. Right now, my trauma therapists and I are working with me to process the videotape of your repeated stabbing of me. When I first saw it in late October, it played in my mind every five minutes thereafter. Now, it enters my thoughts every fifteen minutes or so. I will conquer the fearful power of that image just as I will manage Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over considerable time. I can attest to the fact that PTSD takes far longer than a year to overcome. With much help from God, patience from those who truly love me, and care from those who have knowledge of healing the mind, I will become a new, fully functioning human being and I will celebrate that person one day. Hopefully, statements like this one, that once took me a day to prepare, will no longer take weeks to write when I get better. While I believe my psychiatrist when he says I will never work again, it is my desire to simply live without constantly flashing back and reacting to the terror of that day my life changed so violently and so suddenly without any input at all from me.
Ms. Ricketts, we share a long road to wellness. For your sake and the sake of all those with whom you have contact, I hope you will receive psychiatric help equal to that which I am experiencing. Please know that I harbor no heavy burden of ill will toward you. I truly wish for healing to wash over you and for peace to calm your troubled soul, which I believe to be a talented one. May God bless you and bless your family. Just as importantly, may the City of Poughkeepsie be blessed with an end to the pervasive violence fueled by mental illness that too often tarnishes and destroys the city’s vast treasure of so, so many talented, energetic, and bright people.
Ms. Ricketts, after you have served your sentence, may you return to the city in which you have taught AND, as your lawyer has stated in the past, do good deeds to make your community proud of you. Aside from my own personal recovery, there is no ending to this story that would make me happier. In my heart, I know the world would be a better place with the many gifts of a mentally stable, healthy, and productive Ronette Ricketts. I believe that among the reasons I did not die that day in the hallway of a high school I so passionately love, is this chance to urge you to work diligently with others to heal your troubled mind and soul. Your family, your friends, your community, and yes, even I, expect it of you.
Ms. Ricketts, you and I could not have practiced the noble art of teaching if we did not believe in forgiveness and did not vigorously honor the God of second chances. My fellow teacher, may the sorrows of today be somewhat soothed by my hopeful, healing, and heartfelt forgiveness. May we both travel forward, together in spirit, seeking, promoting, and practicing PEACE for as long as we walk this Earth. May the God of second chances bring us lives filled with profound moments of understanding and love for our fellow travelers. We must never forget that ALL human beings are fragile, all are as imperfect, and all are as in need of caring as we found ourselves to be on that mid-December day -- a day that changed the course of our lives forever. Thank you, Your Honor.