Author Archives: kerriedroban
Ann Rice wrote about Vampires, monsters condemned to darkness, immortal creatures with strangely human qualities, beset with loneliness. Her fictional demons came to life following the tragic death of her daughter when she “looked around and realized [she] was nobody and nothing. [She] wasn’t even a mother anymore.” Her Vampires personified grief, beasts forced to live Undead and shuffle through darkness waiting for dawn so they could finally sleep. But sleep is not escape, it’s delay and fresh awareness that living Undead is, after all still living.
“The trick is not to mind it, to live anyway, despite the pain,” Grief speaks to me. (Hey, if Rice can talk to Vampires…)
Tough, I mind it. I mind it. I’ve not learned “the trick.”
“Practice being still.” Grief closes her eyes.
Quiet my mind. Okay. Breathe. Focus. Meditate.
I like the idea of meditation the seduction of silence but my “OM’s” feel forced and my mind still races. I close my eyes and wonder if anyone still sees me? Is this how Vampires feel when they shut the lids to their coffins–trapped between worlds, unable to leave, left to experience the rest of their lives Undead?
“I’m not doing this right,” I tell Grief. “I don’t feel any better.”
“Give it time,” she says.
“The “time heals all wounds” platitude?” That’s it? I want a refund.
“Try silence in intervals. Five minutes at a time. Practice will make you stronger.”
Notice Grief didn’t say “strong” she said “stronger.” I don’t feel strong. I feel like a whisper, like for the first time my outside matches my inside.
“This is how I see you,” a client once sent me a charcoal drawing of a Warrior Princess. I actually looked up the definition: Warrior, “a brave fighter.” Princess, “a woman of high rank in her profession.” Recently, at a writing event featuring one of my books, a stranger remarked that I resembled “an Ice Princess.” The Warrior part of me must have finally hardened.
“You’re panicking,” Grief says.
Of course I’m panicking. I don’t like this new Being I’ve become. I don’t accept this living Undead as an Ice Princess.
“Practice being still.”
Breathe. OM. Breathe. OM. Nothing is happening. I’m feeling nothing. Geez, I can’t even breathe right. How did I do this before…before I lost my child? Think calm thoughts, like the Ocean, yes! Somewhere in the Cooke Islands, beautiful crystal blue, with slight froth. Wait, don’t Tsunamis happen in the Cooke Islands? This is doing nothing for me.
“Sometimes doing nothing is doing something.” So wise that Grief. Maybe I don’t need to fix this today, tomorrow. Maybe I just need to be. I just need to be in my pain, to be this right now, whatever this is. Today, instead of sitting with my legs crossed, eyes closed, pretending to be still, I hiked into the Red Rocks and practiced silence for thirty minutes. I just listened. Wind shivered through the pine tops and when I looked up, it was like hearing the world for the first time.
“Safe House” in CIA speak means refuge for defectors “coming in from the cold.” Spies, criminals, “hostiles” and people in danger of being exposed surrender inside to their new Normal, a world so quietly foreign. They begin again, anonymous. They seal the door and become Anyone, anyone but who they really are. There is great relief in reinvention. I too, wish to defect, come in from the cold. But in my Safe House tenderness seeps in and shows me my son. There is a knock at my door, soft at first, an almost inaudible tap, tap, tap. I’m not ready. But the door cracks open and darkness, like a pressure lifts. In blow butterflies. They fill the white spaces and skim my shoulders and cheeks, gentle as a kiss. They don’t live very long—less than a month (and only then if no one brushes up against their wings) but they have the most beautiful life, full of bright colors and flight. They are at once connected and detached from their surroundings, they flutter into darkness with such delicate grace, leaving behind an imprint.
Excerpts from The Vault: I’m Still Here
One morning as I drive to work I catch my reflection in the rearview mirror; a face stares back at me but I don’t recognize me, the light behind her skin has burnt her to coals. Could I have changed so much in just a few months? Will I look like myself again when this is over? And if this is never over whom will I look like? Author, Glennon Doyle, calls this kind of change—the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain—revolutionary: “[w]hen you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: New Life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore.”
This is true; I don’t fit. I have put myself back together completely differently.
And yet I’m still here. My nineteen year-old court appointed client is “The Block Monster.” He murdered a mother in front of her three sons while she read to them Maurice Sendak’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are.” The story of a little boy whose mother sends him to bed without dinner is really about a child’s rage, his reaction to his mother’s emotional absence and the darker, neglected parts of a child’s psyche. The Block Monster’s mother asks for her son’s forgiveness, “for being his mother, for not knowing his dark thoughts.” For not accepting that a mother may never know her own child, that her child may be unknowable to her, may not want to be known and may ultimately be the stranger she fears.
“I’m still here,” she writes the judge a letter. “Still just figuring out how to do this….”
“This” is ambiguous. Grief is ambiguous. People ask, are you “Okay?” The alternative is scary, different and primal. It’s Not Okay to be “Not Okay.” The Block Monster took a mother from her sons (they are not Okay); his mother lost him (she is not Okay). I lost mine (I am not Okay). But I’m still here…. Still figuring out how to do this…
“Forgive me,” the Block Monster’s mother writes. “I am not myself anymore. I just lost my son.”
Like me, she is falling awake.
Trauma is a special kind of insanity as each day the mind (dis)members what remains and reconstructs a “New Normal.” In the months following the loss of my son I continued working as a trial lawyer; incredulous that I now lived a story so foreign to my former life. I wrote other people’s stories; told other people’s versions of “who dunnit” but I had the right to remain silent. Didn’t I? I stood at the podium, my heart ticking loudly like a bomb. The room spun. The judge’s voice faded to white noise as I detached from my body barely registering the chain of inmates, the deputies on guard and the chatter, chatter, chatter of butchered words.
For seconds I drifted into a thin gray space then slammed back, stunned and shaken.
“What happened?” the cardiologist asked me the next day. After I nearly fainted at the podium I made an appointment to have an EKG. I was the fittest person I knew, weight lifted regularly, never ate a “bad” carb. “Are you under a lot of stress?” the doctor continued. “Because it’s not uncommon for people under extreme stress to have severe panic attacks.” He prescribed a heart monitor (the irony was not lost on me). I now wore my heart in a box, on the outside of my suit. Wires sucked my chest.
And yet I still tried to do my job: suit (check), court (check), jail ….(f**k!)
Visiting inmates in The Lower Buckeye Jail is a special kind of job hazard; the cells are underground. Access is through a tunnel. The elevator to reach the cells is padded. There are two. The first chamber drops attorneys into a long windowless corridor of white linoleum tiles. It reminds me of a scene out of the movie, Boys from Brazil; there is an old fashioned phone stuck to the wall at the end of the hall “in case of emergencies.” The “emergency” is being there in the first place. The second set of elevators opens into several connecting hallways with locked steel doors. Behind those are my clients.
I started “visiting” inmates through a television monitor because stepping into a padded elevator was no longer something I could do. It wasn’t part of my “New Normal” because frankly it was never part of my “Old Normal” and now that I wore a heart monitor the box went crazy when I stepped inside the vault. I was a “liability” because I now wore my heart and my insides were reflected on my outside I was no longer “allowed” to enter into a dark, heartless hole.
“I have some good news,” the cardiologist reported after thirty days. “No major issues with your heart. You won’t need surgery. But there is some unexplained liquid surrounding the chamber, a small leak, as if something inside seeped out.”
I’ve made a living as a (ghost) writer;
I will be a ghost in my son’s life.
He will haunt mine.
And in the end, I will wonder
who’s life I really tried to save?
It’s nearly impossible to write about this which is why I’ve placed it in The Vault, [My Vault] a large underground chamber [of secrets] used for storage. It’s where I keep my darkest pain. But This—the loss of my son, I can’t keep there anymore. He was too beautiful a soul; he deserves to be known. No, he didn’t “pass away” in the traditional sense [though that might have been easier] but he did die shortly after his eighteenth birthday. If I had known I would only have eighteen years would I have done anything differently? No. Except to beg for more time. When he left my life suddenly, I didn’t experience the five stages of grief, I bypassed all of them and went straight to depression, deep fog dense depression, waking up most nights, heart racing, tears streaming down my face until one night a tiny voice whispered: Repeat after me: he was loved. He was loved. He was so loved. Amen.
As many of my fans may already know, last October I spoke with Dan Zupansky on True Murder podcast about the chilling case of Gary Triano. A few weeks later, Dan reached out again and said fans enjoyed our show and wanted to hear more! On this episode, we talked all about the Chicago Outlaws motorcycle club, the “gamification” of being in a biker gang and my latest book, The Last Chicago Boss.
Although biker gangs usually aren’t considered “traditional” true crime, Dan was interested and open to discussing the cases involved with undercover investigations involving large biker gang infiltrations and the mentality behind these organizations. You’ve likely heard stories about the most dangerous motorcycle gangs involved in murder, extortion, and mob-mentality criminal activity, so it was great to be able to share some of those insights with True Murder listeners.
Thanks again for having me on the show, Dan!
You can listen to the podcast below, or click here to listen on BlogTalkRadio.
P.S. Stay up to date on all things true crime! Sign up for my monthly newsletter.
Are you wondering what it takes to become a true crime writer? Writing true crime is not for faint of heart, but if you’re fascinated by the human condition and want to know why people do the things they do, read on for some helpful tips:
First, get tough. Prepare to visit convicted killers and interact with victims’ families, most of whom will consider you an intruder. They might refuse to talk to you, send you hate mail, accuse you of interfering with the prosecution.
Second, prepare to sell yourself in addition to your subject. Before you write a single word, you need to sell the idea of the book to an agent or publisher. Do some market research and be realistic about the appeal of your project.
Third, accept the facts. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth even if it’s not exciting. You have to be part novelist, part journalist. Ask the hard questions. Conduct the difficult interviews. Get to the truth.
These are just a few lessons I’ve learned after writing five true crime books. If you’re serious about joining the ranks of successful true crime writers, I encourage you to enroll in my true crime writing class where you’ll learn how to interview those involved in the case, craft winning pitches, and establish credibility as an author in this genre and more.
Plus, as a thank you for being a reader, enjoy free access to the workshop introduction video here.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking on the Crime Bites podcast, hosted by criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley.
In this show, get some insights on what we really know about biker clubs, what makes them so intriguing to outsiders, and how biker clubs have changed throughout history. Plus, learn what it’s like to work closely with criminals and how it affects you after.
Tune in to the hour-long podcast below:
Facts About Psychopaths
Psychopaths (from the Greek root psyche and pathos meaning “sick mind” or “suffering soul”) have always been with us, among us and, some might argue, in us. But what if they are of our own making? What if we are the parent of a psychopath–think, Leopold and Loeb (and the senseless murder of Bobby Franks), or Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold’s partner in the Columbine massacre? The uneasy truth is that it is possible we may not know our own children, that our children may be unknowable to us, may not want to be known, and sadly — may be the stranger we fear.
Even scarier is that many so-called psychopaths in fact display no signs or symptoms in early childhood— think Ted Bundy, who hid, as he did in adulthood, behind a “well-cultivated mask of normalcy.”
Truth: 1 in 100 people are psychopaths who blend into Life like cold-blooded chameleons. A good 15-20 percent of the prison population, at least 70 percent of repeat violent offenders and the significant majority of serial killers and sex offenders are psychopaths. But we already suspected this. Did you know that though they rarely seek out treatment they are also 3 times as likely to be released or paroled faster than their non-psychopathic counterparts?
The prospect of a child psychopath is almost unbearable and the parent’s loss, catastrophic. Dylan Klebold’s mother writes in her book, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,” that her grief came in waves as she mourned the loss of her dead son, the dead children he murdered, and the pain of knowing she never really knew him. When asked what she would say to her son now, she wrote, “I would ask him to forgive me for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head.”
The brains of psychopaths are atypical; hallmark traits and behaviors that make them chillingly unique include (from the Youth Version of the Psychopathy Checklist):
But frighteningly, children with these traits also display a “perfect mask of genuine sanity, a flawless surface.” And so, we may never know until it’s too late who are children really are.
P.S. Stay up to date on all things true crime! Sign up for my monthly newsletter.