Bearing Witness: The Trial of Jerry Sandusky-”No one can hear you down there” (Day 8)
As you probably know if you read my diaries, I’m in Bellefonte attending the trial of Jerry Sandusky. And every night, or sometimes in the early morning, I post a synopsis of the days events. Last night I had planned on posting not just a synoposis of the day-but of the entire trial. Each of the victims, each of the charges, all of the testimony, defense arguments, evidence, and predictions. A detailed account of the closing.
But I’m not going to do it today. I’m not even going to finish it, let alone post it. If you want to know about the closing, Diane Dimond said it better than I ever could.
The truth is, I have no clue what the verdict will be. You can never predict what will happen when 12 people go inside of a room to decide fates. The cynic in me fears that he will walk-because he is too powerful, and when we hear of the unspeakable, it is our natural inclination to deny it’s existance. Bearing witness to a crime like this forces the bystander into the uncomfortable position of choosing sides-and it is always easier to side with the perpetrator. All he asks is that you do nothing. Look no further than the actions of Mike McQueary, Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, John McQueary, Jonathan Dranoff, Dottie Sandusky, and all of the others who were confronted with that choice.
This story has recieved wall to wall coverage and legal analysis. But that’s not why I’m here-that’s not what this is about. Instead, I want to tell you what it is like to be down here.
I feel alone most of the time. I’m a pretty shy person, and I don’t like to draw attention to myself. And most of the people here seems so glamorous, dressed to the nines with perfect makeup, perfect hair, pressed suits and dresses fresh from the dry cleaners.
As for me, I wake up every morning, throw my hair in a ponytail and walk 5 blocks to the courthouse. My clothes are usually wrinkled because I have to wash them in the bathroom sink at night. Yesterday, I got halfway through the day before someone was kind enough to inform me that my shirt was on inside out. I gave up on trying to look pretty about a week ago-If I wear makeup, it will be streaked all over my face by the end of the day. Because I cry, I sweat, I hyperventilate. As I sit in those pews and hear about what was done to these boys, and all of the people who did nothing to stop it, sometimes I have to will myself not to run out of the courtroom. Sometimes I have to, because it hits a little too close to home and I need to throw up. It’s not a pretty sight.
So I keep my head down. I try to blend in among the masses-keeping to myself for the most part. Sitting back and observing. Listening instead of talking.
There are a few of us here in this courtroom. We fill up the back rows, where no one pays us any mind. Nobody asks to interview us, or really cares to know our opinion of the trial. Who are we, after all? Just members of the public.
There is the pink lady, as I call her because she always wears pink from head to toe. She survived child sexual abuse and domestic violence until she finally had enough and left her marriage with 5 young kids in tow.
There is the tatooed biker chick who helped organize the candle light vigil held this November. She volunteers at the State College Women’s Resource Center, and protested outside of the courthouse during the pretrial hearings. Today, during one of our 20 minute recesses, she ran 3 blocks to the corner store and bought a roll of blue ribbon, and made pins to pass out to everyone in the gallery. She is also a survivor.
There are the mother and daughter who have spent the entire week sleeping in their car, just so they could bear witness. Both of them are survivors too, who never got justice. Like so many of us, they feel like justice for these boys will be justice for them too.
And then there is Debra.
Every day, she sits in the same spot-a plastic chair in the back right corner of the room. She looks like any other middle aged woman here for the trial. Wal Mart clothes, short cropped hair, nicotine stained fingers. She doesn’t say much, really. She just blends into the background.
And until yesterday, I had no idea that she is actually the mother of Matt Sandusky-the 33 year old man who is making international headlines as we speak for finally coming forward and admitting that he was sexually abused by the man who fostered and adopted him.
Debra has known this since 1994. She told child welfare, she told the judge, she told the district attorneys office- but no one would listen.
Why would they? She was a nobody. Just a single mom from Milesburg PA-a depressed little rustbelt town in the middle of nowhere. A mother who had lost custody of her own child. She wanted too get her son back-and pleaded for him to return. But Jerry Sandusky wanted Matt for himself. And what Jerry Sandusky wanted, he got.
I drove through Milesburg the other day,and then into Snow Shoe-the other small town where Jerry Sandusky found so many of his victims. There are long stretches of road, a few gas stations, and many shuttered homes. There is the dead end street where a 24 year old man drove his motorcycle on to the railroad tracks and died-after the police knocked on his door and asked him what happened all those times he went off with Jerry, alone.
While I was driving, it hit me-this is why he chose boys from these small towns. Because there is nothing out here, because it is so isolated, and you can walk for miles without seeing another soul. In these small towns, secrets stay buried.
In his testimony last week, Victim #9 said that when he was being raped by Jerry Sandusky in his basement he screamed for help, but no one ever came.
“No one can hear you down there”, he said.
For many years, these boys kept silent. They lived with their memories and nightmares, and just tried to move on. Because boys are not supposed to be victims. Boys are not supposed to get hurt. As they grew up, they went to college, served their country, got married and had children of their own and tried to forget.
Many have asked-Why didn’t they speak out sooner?
The question I would ask in return is if they did speak, who would have listened?
Who would have believed them if they did?
Children are powerless to the forces in their universe, dependant on the adults around them to keep them safe. Like a tiny pebble at the bottom of the ocean, a child is pushed and pulled by the currents and tides. And no one can hear you down there.
But the part of me that has not yet succummed to cynicism believes that before this day is over, those 12 men and women finally will.