- Dale Carnegie
My father was a fundamentalist minister who preached “hell, fire and damnation”. At twenty-one I eloped to escape the pain of my home life. Following a traumatic divorce, I struggled to raise my son, Paul. Our life was hard. Sometimes I went hungry and left my food for Paul. By the time Paul was 12, things got better. We moved into a home where we lived until a stranger senselessly murdered my Paul, then 21, on February 18, 1985.
The 17-year-old who murdered him pled guilty and was convicted of “Intentional Murder.” He was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 13 years of unpardonable “flat time.” As I sat in the courtroom, alone, watching, I was amazed at the pity I felt for this teenager. No one was there for him. No one. Even so, I was angry when he did not get the death penalty. Paul was dead — he should be dead also.
The judge handled the case in a short time, then Paul’s slayer was off to prison. I drove the streets of Austin all night, sobbing. I went to all of the churches in the phone book. I mean ALL of them! Nowhere could I find any peace for my soul. I was consumed with grief and pain.
In July 1985, I met a chiropractor who let me cry all I wanted, and to talk about my pain as long as I needed to. She told me about “Spiritual Things”. I was astonished that the churches I visited had never spoken about these things. Hesitantly, I began my search for meaning in Paul’s death.
Two months later, I went to Jamaica. As I walked along the shore, I cried out, “Paul, if I just knew where you are, I will be OK.” It seemed to me that I “felt” my son’s voice say, “I am where I was before I was with you, and I am fine.” That moment was the beginning of my healing.
I still hated the man who murdered Paul. Every six months I went to the Board of Pardons and Paroles in Austin. Each time I told them the same thing. “I’m the mother of Paul Hines who was murdered February 18, 1985 by Charles White. Please tell me that Charles White is dead. Tell me that he has AIDS. Tell me that someone has killed him.” My life’s work was to see that Charles White served every bit of the time that he had been sentenced to.
Then, in 1994, the Victim Services Department of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice invited me to speak to a group of inmates. As the meeting began, I noticed a young boy with red hair, like Paul’s. He could have been my Paul, he looked so much like him. “If that young man were Paul,” I asked myself, “what would I want someone to say to him?” Instead of following my notes, I let my heart speak. I talked about choices, and about how they could make better choices in the future. There were 200 men in that room. Almost all of them were crying. Afterwards the Director of Victim Services said, “Thomas Ann, your words are gold to these men. Compassion shines in everything you say.”
I knew that I wanted to speak with more men like these. I also began thinking about speaking to Charles White. I needed to know about the final moments of my Paul’s life, and only Charles could tell me about them. I requested a meeting, and, after a long, tedious process, my day arrived in 1998. It was a “now or never” moment. Paul always wanted a red Corvette. As I left my motel for the prison, I was amazed to find one parked directly outside my door. Paul’s soul had sent me a sign! I was to meet Charles. Paul would be there. All would be well.
Charles and I talked for eight hours. We cried. We laughed. We wiped each other’s tears. I told him all about Paul, and how much I loved him. I realized that, for the first time, Paul had become a real person to Charles. As our time together drew to a close, I thought about reaching my hand out to him, but I didn’t think I could. The hand that reached back, if one did, would be the same hand that had held the gun that killed my Paul. Miraculously, I found my hand stretching across the table. Charles took it in his, and then placed his other hand on top of it. At that moment, so many, many years of pain and anger fell away. Even though I was crying, I had not felt that calm in thirteen years, since Paul’s death.
I still miss Paul. I would still like to be with him again, but I truly believe his soul’s path was to die the way he did so that I would be able to grow spiritually and do the work that I do inside the prisons. Gary writes in The Seat of the Soul, “If a child dies early in its life, we do not know what agreement was made between that child’s soul and the souls of its parents, or what healing was served by that experience.” I believe that Paul’s soul and mine made this agreement. I truly feel that I am on my soul’s path.
The spiritual growth that I have felt since my first meeting with Charles – I continue to see him whenever I can — has been beautiful. I am grateful daily for this wonderful journey.
Thomas Ann Hines is the founder of the Victim Impact Program, a nonprofit corporation. Her son, Paul, was murdered at age twenty-one. Her grief and rage led her to prisons, and eventually, to her son’s killer. She has become the source of compassion that was absent in this young man’s life, visiting him regularly, and an inspiration to millions of viewers who learned of her remarkable story on the Oprah Winfrey show. She presents Victim Empathy programs to inmates, religious groups and civic groups. She also leads victim sensitivity seminars for law enforcement and judicial personal, victim service providers, and victim advocates. Thomas Ann appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a guest, along with Gary Zukav, on Friday, April 23, 1999. She was featured as the Remembering Your Spirit: Who You Really Are.