It's a hard thing for human beings to accept – that we are not so different from each other, that the bad things that happen to one could happen to another. I came to realize that, for some people, feeling safe meant distancing themselves by imagining character flaws in me that they wouldn't attribute to themselves. “Shannon is very naive. I'm not naive, so I would have known Jason was dangerous.” The fact that many of these people knew of his past and had chosen to trust him was forgotten. Were it not for compassionate support from my family and other friends, I wouldn't have survived.
I was heartsick to read the headlines about the wife of Colonel Russell Williams after the shocking sex crimes that led to his arrest in 2010: “How could she not have known?” I was angered to hear the same question asked of her that was – and still is – asked of me. The truth is I didn't know that Jason was dangerous. It was like the sudden eruption of terminal cancer after all the experts had said it was gone for good. Only this was a cancer that hurt others. Given the chance, I would have done anything to stop Jason.
After his arrest, I quickly realized that while jails prevent criminals from committing further crimes (at least for as long as they are incarcerated), they also prevent those same criminals from facing the people they have hurt. Jason was carted away to solitary confinement while I was left to answer for him in the aftermath, even though I was as appalled, shocked and mystified as everyone else.
Families of offenders face an uphill battle to overcome the stigma of guilt-by-association and to regain control of their lives after their loved one has committed a crime. At times I felt so vulnerable and desperate that I wished I could trade places with Jason – that I could have 24 hours a day in solitude, a place to think and three meals a day delivered to me – instead of having to mop up the disaster he had left behind.
In 2008, Jason pleaded guilty and instructed his lawyer not to contest the Crown's application for dangerous offender status. He is currently serving an indeterminate sentence in a medium-security federal prison.
Today, people continue to ask me, “Why did Jason do it?” I would love to know the answer, but in the absence of any psychiatric evaluation or treatment inside prison, the time Jason is serving is just that: time. It's time that he could spend as a study subject so doctors could learn about how to treat, cure and prevent sexual deviance disorders, or working to pay restitution to his victims.
What helped me was the time I spent visiting Jason. I was able to ask him questions and get answers. Through the glass of the visiting room, I confronted him with the effects his crimes were having on me, my family and my community. I could only imagine the effect his crimes had had on the assault victims, and I confronted him about this, too. I couldn't help them directly because I didn't know them, but I hoped to achieve something by holding their offender to account.
Visit after visit, what I saw before me was a man who was ashamed and filled with remorse. I had the opportunity to see that there was still a human being behind Jason's monstrous acts. His willingness to take responsibility released me from holding onto anger and resentment – a life sentence that I didn't deserve – and helped me open the door to forgiveness and a positive future.
Conventional justice sends the message to victims and society that we should all be satisfied and healed by retribution. Our government tells us that longer sentences and bigger prisons will make us safer. By contrast, my experience tells me that treatment, education and accountability programs for offenders do more good at less cost. Had Jason had access to these, perhaps he never would have reoffended.
I believe that the ripple effect of crime can be stopped by allocating resources to support victims and offenders' families. And by uncovering and treating crime's root causes, such as abuse and mental illness, we will come much closer to the safe and just society we universally desire.
Shannon Moroney lives in Toronto, where she is happily remarried. She is an advocate of restorative justice, a volunteer with Leave Out ViolencE and a contributor to the international Forgiveness Project. Her new memoir, Through the Glass , is published by Doubleday Canada.