Petitions F*cking Actually Work
Making change isn’t always starting a revolution — sometimes it’s a simple as doing what you can.
At the beginning, it happened every five years or so. It would come in like a dark cloud that would suck the life out of my family, and then it would move on and we could get on with our lives. Recently, it’s been happening. Every. Goddamn. Year. and every time it happens it’s like an ice pick to the face of rage, sadness, frustration, and pain.
You see, when I was 8 years old, my Aunt Debbie was brutally murdered in her own home. By her husband, Russell Stone.
The guy we tried to welcome into our family repaid us by taking away my mom’s best friend with a kitchen knife.
I actually remember that day vividly, as traumas tend to stick a little bit more than most memories. That day, my mom came home one evening, I think later than she usually came from from work. She was obviously really troubled, so I asked her what was wrong. As she hugged me, she told me that my aunt had been killed.
My mom didn’t tell me specifics — she had wanted me to remember Auntie Deb as I knew her. Being only eight, I don’t remember too much, besides that I always thought she was really cool, and that she was an eye doctor. At 36, my memory of her now is mainly, ironically, her wedding photo.
My mom was trying to spare me the horrific details, which I would learn later were multiple defense knife wounds, and multiple stab wounds. That my aunt had tried to escape, but was caught and dragged back inside before she was finished off.
However, not telling me specifics was worse in it’s own way, especially for as imaginative of a kid I was. Do you remember the little polyps in The Little Mermaid that Ursula transforms people into? Maybe it was that we had just gotten The Little Mermaid on home video. Maybe it’s that I was a well-read 8 year old that was already reading teen horror novels. But seared in my mind is the image of my Aunt as one of those wrinkly, green polyps, laying face down on her kitchen wearing a bloody wedding dress that’s littered with stab wounds. When I talk about this with others, her wide, dead eyes and green wrinkled skin is still what I see.
Russell was caught, arrested, tried, and found guilty of murder. The police had found the knife with his fingerprints on it and his bloodstained clothes that he had tried to dispose of. This was 1991, so CSI and Dexter weren’t shows yet and learning how to get away with murder from TV shows wasn’t something that happened. Thank goodness for that.
So remember that black cloud that would terrorize us all every few years? That was the announcement of Russell’s parole hearings. My uncle Rod, Debbie’s brother, has always organized a letter writing campaign to express our extreme opposition to having Russell released, and so like clockwork, my whole extended family would get to relive our collective tragedy for a moment as I saw my parents write letters, sign them, and mail them off.
When I turned 18, I was happy to be able to sign the letters of opposition on my own, which might surprise some of you who know me. I’m a huge proponent of making sure those incarcerated are treated fairly and with dignity, and I support the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. I don’t believe the death penalty is ethical, and I highly support the idea of reform and building pipelines for felons to reintegrate into society, including opportunities for employment and housing.
However, this all assumes that those being released from prison have made the commitment to changing past behaviors and ways of thinking. I believe in second chances, and that people who have done horrible things can repent, take responsibility, and change, but I also believe that they need to deserve those chances.
Russell, who has yet to take responsibility for his actions in the past 28 years, is not one of those people.
I’ve told my family that if he ever owned up what he did, and showed some remorse, I don’t know if I’d be able to oppose his parole. I’ve gone through a lot of therapy, and I think I might even be willing to someday forgive him.
After all, I believe in the capacity for humans to change and grow. I’m also not stupid, and when a person doesn’t take ownership of their mistakes, it means that they don’t really believe what they did was wrong. And when a murderer doesn’t believe that killing someone is wrong, that person does not need to be out and about in society.
So when I get that email from my uncle about Russell, I’d disassociate and become emotionally dead for a few hours, then would get to work writing a letter. But in 2014, just a year after we had gotten his last parole denied, we were told by my uncle’s lawyer that he was probably going to get out this time.
When I asked what had changed, I was told that it was because he was a model prisoner and had learned a craft in prison that he was likely to get released. Still no ownership of murdering my aunt, but okay, he’s learning something at least. That’s cool. What did he learn?
Yeah, that sounds oka- HE F*CKING LEARNED OPTOMETRY? AS IN THE PROFESSION OF MY DEAD AUNT WHO HE STABBED TO DEATH? AW HELL NO.
If that reaction might seem overstated, I honestly would be okay with him learning any other profession. He could have taken up engineering, or creative writing, or poetry. But optometry? This was a goddamn insult.
To me, this is like having someone cut off your feet then sending you a pair of shoes to make up for the maiming. It’s someone setting fire to your house and then giving you a fire extinguisher to say “No harm, no foul, right?”
Being an early Millennial, (a proud Xennial, if you will) I did what anyone trembling with rage and frustration would do. I made an online petition.
It seems easy to do. You just go to a petition management site, type some stuff up, and then post it on social media, right? 10–15 minutes tops. That’s what I had thought at first, and then I found that I was just sitting at my computer screen in the dark for half an hour.
I had made the petition, but I was hesitant to share the petition. I had never told most of my friends about what had happened to my aunt. Of all the people I kept in contact with in my adult life, I could count the number of friends who knew on one hand. Would anyone care? Did people still believe that online petitions would work?
After agonizing, I finally wrote a post and hit share.
I don’t know what I expected from sharing a petition online, but I had to walk away from the computer, as I had no idea how my network of friends and business contacts would react. The screen addict in me took over eventually, and after only fifteen minutes or so, I refreshed the page.
I turned to my partner and started crying.
“People are signing!” was all I could get through the tears and snot running down my face.
I looked at the signatory list and saw the names of people I had just met a few months ago and I saw the names of people I hadn’t seen in over a decade. And then came all the names of people from around the country who I didn’t recognize. Friends shared my post, and they roped in more people than I could have ever thought possible.
We managed to stop Russell’s parole again that time, and I was able to ask for the help I needed, and my community generously gave it.
My uncle now asks me to start up a petition again every time there’s a new parole meeting, and although it feels like a burden, it’s also my burden to carry. Not because any of my other tech-saavy cousins couldn’t do it. Not because I would be letting down my family if I told them I didn’t have the emotional reserves to do it again. But because through this process, I’ve learned something valuable.
I’ve learned that we are all more powerful than we could imagine. I’m just one person sitting behind a screen, just like all of you. But by choosing to step forward, be vulnerable, and ask for help, I was able to keep the monster that has stolen so much from me and my family locked up for at least another year.
I’ll admit, making the decision to step into the arena, make an assertion, and ask for help is a scary thought. It’s terrifying, uncomfortable, and probably makes you feel like you’re going to barf, but when you learn to put yourself out there and ask for things that you believe in, you’ll be surprised as to how far you’ll go.
If asking for things feels too scary, then consider inviting others to come along with you. Share an assertion and ask others if they agree. That’s where the magic is.
So in that spirit, I have two invitations for all of you who have made it this far.
- He is still denying his role in this nightmare and I believe he is still a danger to the community at large. UPDATE, Aug. 25, 2022 — he’s up for parole again, here’s a link to the petition: https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/deny-the-parole-of-russell-franklin-stone-h00697
- Please never forget how powerful you are. The human capacity for change is far greater than any of us can imagine. So much more is possible than you might think. Don’t be afraid to make the change you want to see in the world. Remember, it might be as simple as starting an online petition.
Now let’s all get out there and change the world.