Visiting author hits jail, putting victims first

Shannon Moroney was writing wedding thank-you cards when police knocked on her hotel room door. Married only a month, the new wife had "woken up that morning thinking how great life was.

Shannon Moroney was writing wedding thank-you cards when police knocked on her hotel room door.

Married only a month, the new wife had “woken up that morning thinking how great life was.

“I’d just turned 30, I’d married my best friend, we owned a little house and I loved my job,” said Moroney, who was a school guidance counsellor.

“And I was just about to call my husband and tell him I thought I was pregnant.”

Moroney was on her way home to Peterborough, Ontario, after an annual school counsellors’ conference in Toronto when the police showed up.

“They told me my husband had just been charged with serious sexual assaults and kidnapping,” said Moroney.

“For a split second I thought, there must have been some mistake.”

Then the police informed her that her husband had been the one who called 911.

He’d confessed everything.

“I just froze,” she said.

Six years later, Moroney is touring Canada with her first book, Through the Glass, a memoir chronicling her incredible journey from shattered wife to restorative justice advocate.

It’s not your average book tour.

Instead of setting up shop in bookstores, Moroney is visiting jails to talk with the inmates about her experiences.

In Whitehorse last week, Moroney talked candidly about what it meant to have been married to a man who committed such atrocious crimes.

“It could happen to anyone,” she said.

“Everyone wants to feel safe and think, that could never happen to me because ….

“But I am an educated middle class woman with my wits about me, and it happened to me.”

Moroney met her husband Jason at the local soup kitchen.

He was the head chef and co-ordinator, and she’d brought a bunch of her students to volunteer.

“Everyone there loved him,” she said.

Moroney went back a few more times and he ended up asking her out for tea.

Within the first five minutes of sitting down, Jason said he had something to tell her.

When he was 18 he’d murdered his 38-year-old female roommate in a rage.

“I was shocked and sad,” said Moroney.

In hindsight, people have asked why she didn’t just get up and walk away.

“But Jason was so up front and honest and fair about it,” she said.

“And as a guidance counsellor I was used to hearing very painful things about people’s lives.”

Jason had served his time and Moroney met his psychiatrist and his parole officers, who all said, “He’s our best guy.”

“And I trusted our national parole board and Corrections Canada,” she said.

Moroney did date someone else for a while, but she and Jason “were kindred spirits.”

Jason had been in another two-year relationship with a teacher that had ended amicably, she said. “And his best friends were university professors.

“He’d made a horrific mistake, but had been given a second chance.”

Three years after they met, and 18 years after he’d committed murder, Jason and Moroney married.

Jason had just finished a fine art master’s degree and was working part time at a health food store when he snapped.

He ended up attacking and brutally sexually assaulting a customer who entered the store, leaving her wounded and tied up in the basement.

He did the same thing to the next female customer, then rented a van and carted the women back to the house he and Moroney shared.

“The women were incredibly brave and started talking to Jason about the photos on the wall, and his drawings, to try and rehumanize him,” she said.

Then Moroney called from her Toronto hotel room.

“When I was away we always talked at 10 p.m.,” she said.

Jason “sounded a little off,” she said.

“And I asked if he was OK, and joked he’d probably been eating too much junk food.

“Then I told him I thought I was pregnant, and went to bed thinking life was perfect.”

Not long after Moroney’s call, Jason turned himself in and urged 911 to send an ambulance for the women.

As news of the crime surfaced, Moroney’s friends reacted in one of two ways.

Some were supportive, but many blamed her. They accused her of endangering their lives by introducing them to Jason and wrote nasty letters.

“I started labeling my friends as ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe,’” she said.

Then Moroney lost her job.

“The school’s principal and superintendent told me I could no longer work there because ‘I represented something terrible,’” she said.

Unsure where to turn, Moroney went to the police local victim services department for support, but was dismissed abruptly by the counsellor, who said, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s interesting how everyone is so quick to blame the wife, when there were lots of experts around including Jason’s parole officers and psychiatrists, who didn’t take any of the blame,” said Moroney.

“They just assume, as his wife, there must be something wrong with you.”

Moroney went through periods of anger and blame, but ultimately she was just “so sad.”

It’d be easier to think Jason was “a singularly evil person,” she said.

“But I don’t subscribe to that – there are two sides to Jason and both of them are real – nobody is that good of an actor.”

The first thing Moroney did was visit Jason in jail. “I had to ask him what happened,” she said.

Moroney didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first step in her restorative-justice journey.

“In hindsight, it was a restorative dialogue,” she said. “I was able to say, this is what you’ve done and how you’ve hurt me.”

It would be more than three years before Jason’s two victims would be given a similar opportunity.

It took more than a year for a Crown attorney to be assigned to the case, then another year and a half before Jason was given the opportunity to plead guilty.

In federal prison, Jason is also on a waitlist for a sex-offenders treatment program.

“He was told it would take seven to 10 years to get in, which means it will take 10 to 12,” said Moroney.

There were times, in her darkest hours, when Moroney wished it was her, not Jason, in prison.

“He’s in there getting three meals a day, and I’m out here cleaning up the mess he made after losing my job,” she said.

Canada’s justice system is not victim-friendly, she said.

And the Conservative government’s new omnibus crime bill is only going to make matters worse, said Moroney.

Putting people in jail for an extra year isn’t going to solve anything, especially when it costs upwards of $100,000 a year per inmate, she said.

“We need a victim- and community-centred approach.”

In her travels, Moroney visited a county jail in California, “where they love to incarcerate people.”

The jail has a small restorative justice unit with 65 long-term offenders all sharing one room.

After speaking to this group of men in orange jumpsuits, Moroney received 40 letters from them.

She also learned that in the last 10 years there had only been one pushing-and-shoving fight in their unit, while the rest of the jail sees a murder a week.

“And recidivism rates for their unit dropped from 75 per cent to less than 10 per cent,” she said.

Despite the overwhelming statistics, restorative justice programs are “usually small, under-funded and under-staffed,” said Moroney.

Reading her victim-impact statement in court, more than three years after the crime, Moroney talked about how she thought about Jason’s two victims every day.

Afterwards, one of the victims hugged Moroney, weeping.

That is restorative justice, she said.

A victim-centred approach doesn’t mean criminals won’t go to jail, she added.

“It just asks the victims what they need.”

The Yukon has nine restorative, community-based justice programs, including First Nation land-based healing camps, youth justice committees and healing circles, said community justice director Lesley Carberry.

“We need to put resources into building these programs,” said Moroney.

“Because you have all these good people working with kitchen table budgets, while the Harper government has found billions of dollars to build new jails.”

Moroney is remarried now and expecting twins, but her past experiences have re-shaped her career.

During her years of therapy and healing, Moroney pursued a master’s in juvenile and restorative justice.

And the track Canada is on goes against everything she’s learned.

“Incarcerating a person for longer does nothing to address the root causes of crime, whether it’s mental illness, lack of education, abuse or other types of marginalization,” she said.

“As a taxpayer, a community member and as a victim looking at Harper’s omnibus crime bill, I’m scared.”

For more information on Moroney, or to order her book, go to www.shannonmoroney.com.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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