Although I remember the national publicity that accompanied his 2001 crime and subsequent trial, Derek and I did not become friends until 2005, when I made a gift of books to his prison. At that time, Derek was being held at Omega Prison, a highly-abusive youth prison being operated by the sheriff of Manatee County and Bradenton FL. To this day, Derek says the prison and its staff practiced techniques that are widely considered torture, and I have no reason to doubt him. Omega has since been closed down because even the state of Florida found its practices too far beyond the pale.
The circumstances surrounding our friendship were accidental. Contrary to keeping the young inmates isolated from the outer world, a staff member gave Derek permission to write me a thank-you letter for the gift of books, and a brief exchange of letters ensued. In his second letter to me, Derek admitted to the murder of his father and for a time I alone knew the truth of what was a subject of hot debate on the Internet: were Derek and Alex King or pedophile Ricky Chavis the actual murderers of Terry King?
But more impressive to me was the moral courage it took for Derek to admit to the act. If I chose to cut off communications with him, he said, he would understand.
Quite the contrary, it was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day. Derek knows that other people may come and go in his life, but no matter what, I will never abandon him. Sometimes we go for months at a time with no communication, but he knows I am here when he needs me.
Getting to know Derek and his brother was the beginning of this strange mission of being there for young people who have killed a parent. I have learned much from Derek and continue to do so. He makes me think. He confronts me with a reality which is totally divorced from the lessons of my own upbringing.
You can imagine my surprise when he told me last night that one of his former roommates had produced a film about him more than a year ago. I share it with you now because it informs the viewer of a truth that I learned the first time we met in person: that there is nothing to fear in this gentle young man. What happened to him at age 13 is an aberration that any of us might have done in the same circumstances.
Derek is free now; after seven years of hell he was released from prison over five years ago, and has remained free of any entanglements with the law. He claims that he has beat the odds in remaining free of rearrest, but I say he has not. I say he is living proof that parricides are not common criminals but survivors, and therefore fall outside recidivism statistics. More than 95% of parricides never go on to commit another crime.
There are some who say that Derek has got off too easy with just seven years’ punishment, but I say they don’t know what they are talking about. Derek is harder on himself than even the most abusive prison could be. He will be dealing with his actions as a 13-year-old for the rest of his life, and I will be there to help when he asks.
Groove of the Day