She had murdered two people with a pick ax, but for some reason my mother and she had become good friends. My mom was involved with a Prison Fellowship group that regularly spent time "ministering to" the female inmates in Texas. This was years before Karla's positive attributes became the focus of a national campaign to convince then-governor George W. Bush to stay her execution. I was suspicious, to say the least, as my mother waxed poetic about this murderer named Karla, who, she said, "was a wonderful, spirit-filled person who had dramatically changed her life."
I had to find out what my mother had discovered in that prison. As that last maximum-security door slammed behind me, I saw Karla running toward me, her arms open wide. It was my first exposure to prisoners, much less death row prisoners, and I was frightened. I was sure she could hear my heart pounding. As she held me, I was certain she could sense the chill in my bones and feel my knees shaking.
"After all your mom's told me, I feel like I know you," Karla told me. Sitting beside Karla, as she held my hand, I saw peace beaming from the face of this woman who had so much to be forgiven for. I couldn't stop staring. She had been stripped bare of pretenses and had nowhere to hide. Her peace. Where does her peace come from?
I resented Karla Faye Tucker Brown for unusually personal reasons having nothing to do with her crime. It bothered me that my mom seemed to blithely forgive Karla's horrible crime--while harboring extreme hatred and a lack of forgiveness for my father.
Her rage towards him was understandable.
My father, after living a secret, double life for over 20 years, had given my mother AIDS.
He had already died and she was struggling to come to grips with his betrayal. She would sputter his name with venomous hatred, but since he was dead and could no longer shoulder her wrath, it all fell on me.
Yet while he was responsible for the imminent death of my mother, I could easily forgive him because I, too, blamed her for my father's disease.
It took me far too long to forgive her for a host of past wrongs suffered during my childhood under her self-righteous, pious and brutal hand. All those unpredictable beatings I received during her fits of rage left me deeply scarred and resentful.
"Please forgive Diana, Lord," she would solemnly pray aloud after one of my beatings for rolling my eyes at her, clicking my tongue to my teeth or trying to voice my opinion. "She doesn't know how to respect and obey me. Pleeeease forgive her."
Her summoning God to every one of my beatings made me conclude that her legalistic, disapproving God with his strict rules and unjust punishment, could never love me--a rebellious, hardhearted, sinful daughter. My mom had always told me so.
I held both my parents responsible for the death not only of my family but our family's basic philosophy: That we were better than everyone else. We had always been so good at being condescending. My parents were well-known in Milwaukee for their conservative views, and we were more righteous, more high-class, more respectable, more right than wrong.
That posture became rather difficult to maintain once the truth about my father's real life and death and my mother's diagnosis became known in their social circle. We moved him to Cincinnati, under a different name, having him fill the last space in one of the nation's first AIDS hospices. We moved my mother to another part of Milwaukee, where she was living when she was invited to prison to meet Karla.
The people that she and her bejeweled, church-going friends had always condemned for their sinful ways-criminals, druggies and other lowlifes-were now the only ones offering help, sympathy and, like Karla, a hand to hold. These "undesirables" loved her and stood by her as Christ would. Her former friends and neighbors were too busy whispering about her.