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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 10 62 Judith toy was ordained as a member of the order of interbeing by thich Nhat hanh in 1997, and along with her husband, Philip toy, has founded several sanghas in that tradition, including one in a men’s prison. She leads mindfulness retreats and is the editor of Cloud Cottage Editions. words among the boys. Charles had been in the top 2 percent of his high school class the year before—a quiet, scholarly boy headed for an engineering major at Drexel University—until he dropped out three weeks before graduation. He stopped cutting his hair and stopped shaving. What happened that turned him into a monster? No one knew then that he had been stalking the neighborhood at night for a year. When he was certain they were asleep, he crept upstairs and murdered them one at a time in their beds with a hammer and a knife. Then he slid into the seat of the Lumina, his getaway car. Charles took the family TV, some clothing, a cache of Connie’s makeup, some jewelry, and Bobby’s Nintendo set. The cash value of his take, the only motive anyone could ascribe to the murders, was about five hundred dollars. With the bloody murder weapons in the trunk, he drove to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to see friends, including his fif- teen-year-old girlfriend, Leeanne. He told her the story of the murders in detail: how he had planned and carried them out; the order in which he had killed his victims; how Bobby had cried out to his mother for help—and how he was planning to return to Pennsylvania to kill his own parents and grand- mother. Leeanne called the police. Officers took her to the Ft. Lauderdale station and videotaped her as she recounted Charles’ story, and applied Connie’s stolen lipstick to her own lips. Charles was arrested and brought back to the county seat in Pennsylvania, where the district attorney was obliged to beef up security to protect him from an angry mob when he arrived at three in the morning. How hatred begets hatred: the district attorney remembers a woman screaming, “Fry him! Fry him!” Charles’ parents became instant pariahs. Our family was unanimous in not wanting Charles dead— but not out of idealism or pacifism. We wanted him to suffer long and hard behind bars. For the rest of his days, we rea- soned, he should face what he had wrought. We were spared being in the same room as the killer and reliving over and over the horror of the murders when, dur- ing the first day of the trial, Charles confessed to all three. The judge gave him three consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole. That was December, and the following April, I went to see Dai-En Bennage at Mt. Equity Zendo. I had stumbled into meditation in the seventies through the Hermann Hesse book, The following April, exhausted, I sought solace at Dai- En Bennage’s zendo, an apartment in a Quaker-built manor known as Mt. Equity, in Pennsdale. My husband and I were Quakers, and had been introduced to Bennage through our Friends Meeting. I fell in love with her at first sight. She had just returned from more than twenty years in Japan, the first woman and the first foreigner to complete the advanced teacher training of the Soto Zen sect in that country. Her face beamed when she smiled. She was ebullient, smart, dis- ciplined, and meticulous. I told her that during meditation there were voices in my head uttering stern biblical warnings about false images. She responded by offering to put her Buddha statue in a drawer, and I became her first overnight student in America. It was the beginning of my journey from hatred to healing. TWENTy yEArS LATEr, even through the lens of Zen, it is still hard to tell this story, and I have changed some names and places to protect those involved. It feels like I’m peering through a telescope underwater: The way my daughter rachel had said just weeks before the murders, “Mom, I don’t know what I’d do without Aunt Connie. She’s always there when I need her.” The way I woke up from a dream the night after it happened, feeling a sharp blow to my head. The way I overheard neighbors talk about a young cop at the scene who got sick. The black four-inch headlines in the tabloids at the local grocery store. Photographers hiding behind trees at the funeral; the three coffins in a row. Connie had felt a motherly concern for Charles, the latch- key kid across the street. After school, while Charles and her son Allen tinkered under the hood of Allen’s Lumina, which had been left to him by his father, not long dead of cancer, Connie would appear in the doorway of the garage with a smile and a tray of snacks and ginger ale. The night of the murders, Charles hid, crouched in the dark of the same garage, waiting for them to return from a trip to the seashore, to go to bed and sleep. There had been no angry