All photographs, text, and graphics in this website are © David Lee Myers
23 February 2021
Quite naturally this rough material will be part of how you know and understand me. Nevertheless, these events do not define me. With the exception of the one brutal event, my life is wonderful.
Decades each of two satisfying marriages, of classic black and white photography, of community history interviewing, photography, and writing, of teaching college photography, and of color photography on landscape, abstract, and natural history themes. Thirteen years in public office wrestling with electric utility policy in the turbulent 1980s. A decade of playing in a semi-professional classical chamber music group. A published book on butterflies.
— David Lee Myers, 2021
Restorative Justice, including Mediation
Mediation Gave Me My Future
After Elaine’s death I was stunned, my consciousness was narrowed to simple emotional survival. I felt a lot of anger, pain, and just plain disorientation—this was not at all the life I expected.
My father-in-law Peter Serrell first proposed mediation with the drunken driver, Mary (not her real name), facilitated by Marty Price, a national pioneer in victim-offender mediation and restorative justice. My response was “It fits my values, I’ll give it my blessing, I’ll cooperate with any legal aspects, but I don’t know if I can participate in person—I’m still too angry and too hurt.” Six months further down my healing path I was ready to participate. At the same time Marty Price was working with each potential participant to nurture their comfort with the forthcoming encounter and prepare them to deal with the issues. I will forever be deeply glad for Peter’s proposal, for Marty’s guidance, and for my participation.
For mediation, Marty gathered us all together in a hotel meeting room. Elaine’s parents Peter and Kathleen Serrell, her sister Barbara Clark and brother-in-law Dave Hansen, her sister Elizabeth Menkin and niece Aileen Menkin, myself, Mary, her lawyer Ed Putka, and a friend. Though others in the family could not attend, their strong expressions of support reinforced our courage—Elaine’s sister Beverly Serrell, Betty’s husband Bill Menkin and other daughters Nora and Josie, my brothers Fred and Lee, and sister-in-law Cathy, and niece and nephew Scott and Michelle, and my parents Jan and Larry Myers.
Mary showed courage in coming to this voluntary meeting. I sat just a few feet from her, looking into her eyes as I recited my Victim’s Impact Statement. Watching her tears, I saw that she really did know the horror of what she had done, and that it appalled her as much as it did me. I could see every quiver, read every nuance of authenticity when she said “I’m sorry.” Later, Mary told us how she had been rethinking her behavior. She showed dismay as she told of her old friends continuing drunkenness and driving in spite of her own crash—she realized she was going to need a different kind of friends. With these observations, her promise to work against drunken driving seemed reliable.
The next morning after mediation I awoke with renewed vitality. At a business meeting my mind was simultaneously expansive and detailed. Walking down the street my body felt nimble and powerful. Wow! I hadn’t acted this way all year. This turnaround launched another year’s healing including, to be honest, much trouble, by the end of which I was ready to live well.
Would the primary victim have approved of the mediation? Elaine looked for practical solutions to problems, she wanted things to go better for people. Faced with trouble, she’d ask “What is the loving response here?” I am confident that our mediation with the woman who killed her, and our efforts to help that woman establish a successful life for herself and her son and daughter was a fulfillment of Elaine’s values.
Mediation gave me the gift of a major milestone in my healing: Before, my view looked backwards, as I tried to swallow the one indigestible, horrid fact of Elaine’s death; Afterwards I shifted to a forward-looking present. “It has come to this. We are all here, now. How are we best to go on from here?”
Results of Mediation and other aspects of Restorative Justice.
After mediation, our family continued substantial contact with the Mary. Peter and Barbara visited her several times in prison. A number of us corresponded at least a few times with her. We made a court appearance to reduce her monetary restitution to us—figuring that she had little way to earn money and needed what she could get for her own family, whereas we all had enough.
Mary made presentations to various community, school, and offender groups, helping raise community awareness of the hazards of driving drunk.
Results of this process have been excellent for me, for my family, and for the community as a whole. In a case like this where the damage to the primary victim is so severe—death—that she cannot be restored to well-being, at least her values were carried on in the family and community response to her death. Unfortunately the process hasn’t healed Mary's life yet. Her efforts to avoid alcohol, drugs, and behaviors that hurt others have been largely successful—and considering her past, that is a real tribute to her good intentions and her desire to do well. But normal jobs, relationships, and family life have eluded her. Personally, I’m letting go of thinking about her progress. [As of 2011.] Perhaps becoming free of involvement with us will give her one more opportunity to establish a good life for herself and her family.
What About Forgiveness?
The word “Forgive” has powerful and wonderful meaning to most people—actually a rich variety of meanings reflecting the range of people’s emotional structures and religious and philosophical beliefs. So, do I forgive the Mary, the drunken driver, do I forgive her for getting drunk, driving, and killing Elaine, my first wife? Do I or don’t I? Rather than say “yes” or “no” with my voice to your meaning of forgiveness, I prefer to just discuss what I believe:
• I accept Mary as as a legitimate, full member of society.
• I respect her for accepting reality and responsibility by pleading guilty to vehicular homicide. I respect her for her positive attitude in prison, seeking education and other opportunities.
• I am grateful for her mediation with us, for her other contacts with our family, and for her cooperation with us in publicizing restorative justice.
• I respect her for her brave work in the community to encourage people to not repeat her mistake. She had the courage to tell her story to high school assemblies in her home town, and to offender programs.
• I still abhor what she did that dreadful night—and I don’t dwell on it. That night remains a part of her life story but does not define her.
• I release her from any special responsibility to me—the rest of her life is for herself, her family, her God, her community—just like everybody’s is. As far as I’m concerned, she has paid her debt as much as is possible within the human realm.
• I wish her well.
Background (Just for the Record).
Our case was one of the early homicides to be mediated. Many of the participants in this pioneering case had personal backgrounds that specially oriented them towards mediation and restorative justice.
Peter Serrell is Elaine’s father and the guiding force behind our family’s effort. In the early 1950s he and his partner in an engineering firm doing wind-tunnel work in Pasadena, California had up to eighty employees. When staff relations grew troublesome, Peter went to a management consultant who connected him with the psychologist Tom Gordon. As Peter told Tom what was going on in the firm, he realized that Tom was listening to him in a way that he had never been listened to before. Tom was a disciple of Carl Rogers, the original proponent of “Unconditional Positive Regard” including Active Listening. Peter said that the new communications skills he learned were not able to save the firm from its troubles (which also involved changing markets) but made a huge difference in his relations with his daughters. I know from them that they developed a deep, abiding trust in and affection for him. In the 1970s Elaine and I were having difficulties getting along together, and Peter saw to it that we started learning how to examine and change our communications patterns to make them more effective.
Peter says “My mother planted the idea that holding anger is destructive.”
All four of Peter’s daughters went out into the world to become thoughtful and persistent change agents. Barbara ended up in politics as Portland’s elected City Auditor, working to get politicians and bureaucrats to negotiate to win/win positions. In retirement she is doing couples mediation and counseling. Beverly revolutionized the country’s museum labels, making them effective for a much larger cross-section of the population. Elaine was a passionate promoter of year-round organic gardening and of a spiritual connection to gardening and the land. Betty, an M.D., has pioneered a whole system of humane hospice care within the medical bureaucracy of Kaiser.
I had been an elected Public Utility Commissioner of my local electric and water utility for thirteen years. When I started working with our state association, we voted on policy positions for lobbying for state and federal legislation and regulations. The association lobbied the winning position, and the losers, who were sovereign public officials in their own right, went and lobbied their opposing views, undercutting the association’s strength. I fomented a major reform, drawing on recent business and political science developments and arranging training for us in consensus politics. We learned how to get everybody’s needs on the table, and became imaginative in figuring out a way to get those needs met.
— David Lee Myers, 1994 through 2011