Helping Crime Victims Cope and Move On

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A clothesline of t-shirts hangs on the wall of the Parole and Probation's Southwest field office. Some of them are decorated with colorful balloons and Teddy Bears outlined with glitter. But the shirts are also covered with somber messages like: “In Memory of Javon,” “Love Shouldn't Hurt,” “Anger and Forgiveness.” The clothesline is a project by victims and family members honoring loves doing National Crime Victims Rights Week, a special time to recognize victims of crimes.

“Victims are often the forgotten piece of the criminal justice system.” Mark Vernarelli is the Director of Public Information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He said this is Maryland has commemorated National Crime Victims Rights Week for 10 years and the department is focused on making victims a priority.

“We want them to be the centerpiece of the criminal justice system. We want to keep them inform, we want them to understand what their offender is doing in the system, when their offender is going to get out. What the parole process is like. ”

Representatives various groups including University of Maryland's PHAT Program and Northwest Hospital's Domestic Violence Program were on hand to provide literature for folks making their way around the facility.

Da'Shawn Cabbagestalk works in the state's Office of Victim Services assisting victims daily. As a previous victim of armed robbery, she says she understands the need for victims to have a voice. “I just want to be a part of the mission to make people feel like we care, and feel like we're doing something; that we're making a concerted effort to make them feel whole. I know that when I endured victimization, that is what I wanted. You want people to care. You want people to show some empathy. And then you want people to help you, or point you in the right direction to receive the help that you need to start to heal.”

For many, this week is also a time for deep reflection for people like Bonnita Spikes, a widow. Her husband, Michael, was gunned down at a convenient store.

Spikes explained how the lost weighed heavily on her family. “My youngest son, Michael, tried to kill himself, he was 13. I had to work three jobs after Michael died. And I'm a nurse, but it wasn't enough for the college and the two high schools. It was just something else.”

After much support, Spikes was able to grasp a new handle on life; And now as a member of the State Board of Victims Service, she spends most days advocating and assisting victims. Spikes feel it is important to talk to someone while grieving.

“You don't put no time frame to people who are grieving; but you have to let them talk to people that can help them out of it because you can't stay stuck in that sorrow forever. You're needed to help people. And people need your help, because each time we tell our story to somebody it helps somebody.”

I'm Bobby Marvin, reporting in Baltimore for 88.1, WYPR.