Picture yourself in the following situation…
As a baby, you entered the world unwanted. If you had any doubts about that as you got older they were erased by the knowledge that your mother “gave you away” to be raised by a fellow stripper with a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. So it’s true; she really didn’t give a **** about you. You tell yourself you’re glad you never knew her. Does it stop the pain?
You grow up in a house where violence is a part of every day. You learn to give and take suffering and live with the threat of unpredictable cruelty. You learn to function without feeling. You know nothing else. Everyone in your home uses drugs and alcohol to numb their pain; they’re all too self-absorbed, wrapped up with their own problems, to care. You quickly learn that no-one else is going to help you; you’re on your own. Does it feel lonely?
Everybody has things they like to do to relax and feel good. Your family is no different. You copy their recreational habits and by age eight you are a smoker and use weed to escape the monotonous misery of your life. As time passes you move on to opiates, painkillers, OxyContin and morphine to stay detached from your pathetic reality. Are the painkillers working?
Drugs only do so much to tame the fury you feel deep inside at a world you never asked to be born into but has punished you every day nonetheless. You lash out sometimes. It’s the only form of communication you know; whenever you’ve tried to speak you’ve been treated with ridicule or anger, so you hate your own voice and haven’t the ability or confidence to articulate yourself anyway. You’ve never learnt to fully comprehend your feelings or anyone else’s. Now that you’ve become so adept at suppressing them you couldn’t, even if you wanted to. You start to accumulate criminal convictions, mostly for assault. You’ve never experienced unconditional love or affection but you crave it like the drugs you abuse, don’t you?
With no job skills, you know things are never going to get much better than this. You dropped out of school at Grade 8. All you can do is menial, low-paid work. You don’t stick with any of the jobs you get for long, it’s not like you’re on a career ladder or anything. The years grind by and you spend your days in the rundown, rubbish-strewn frame house you call home, looking after your adopted mother, who now has cancer, and getting high. This is the sum total of your life, and you live it in parallel with the rest of the world, where comfort, love and happiness are experiences people cherish, pursue, and obtain. You know there are many things you will never have, many places you will never know, many things you will never feel – and no hope of changing that. Who says anything’s possible?
At eighteen, you meet a guy. He’s twenty-eight, drives his own car, and has a job. He makes you feel attractive. You have sex with him on your first date. It’s the price a girl pays to keep a guy’s affection, right? The cost of company in a lonely, loveless life.
Terri-Lynne McClintic made some bad choices in her life, which have brought her to where she is now; serving life for the murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford. She’s paying for them through the legal system we have assembled to deal with people who fail to live within the bounds of society, and through the torment of what she’s done.
She’s not a remorseless automaton. She threw up in a wastepaper basket after hearing the impact statements from Tori’s family. She understands the difference between right and wrong. “It seemed the right thing to do” was the reason she gave for handing out flyers during the search for Tori. She wrote a letter of apology to Tori’s mother. Her clumsy attempts at moral action provoked disgust but they are correct in their intention, were it not for her part in the crime that bought their need into being. What she does lack are the psychological tools to live a moral, purposeful, fulfilled life. Things that we take for granted, like self-esteem, confidence and conviction. This doesn’t make her a monster. It makes her a tragedy, a victim of a failed upbringing.
She has claimed she has “an addictive personality”. I think “suggestible” would have been a better word. Rafferty had her sized up from the get-go. He supplied just enough interest and warmth to secure her attachment to him – given her abysmal lack of self-worth, not much was required.
The last time McClintic saw Rafferty before he was arrested in May 2009 “I remember touching his face and he looked up and almost laughed at me (saying) “You will do anything for a little bit of love, eh?”” He couldn’t have been more accurate.
She was willing to shoulder all the blame, because in her skewed perception “he had a life, a job and he had things going for him, and I really had nothing… I said, “I’m just an eighteen year old junkie anyway.” She described her own life as worthless, she told Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey, “because that’s what I thought.” Neither she nor Rafferty seem to have any relatives in the packed courtroom.
Terri-Lynne McClintic committed a terrible act and she will pay the price our legal system exacts. She deserves her punishment. But by labelling her “evil” or “a monster” we’re refusing to acknowledge our part in her, and ultimately Tori’s, demise. Our society created the world that Terri-Lynne grew up in. We failed her first, long before she failed Tori. If you lived the eighteen years of her life and met someone like Rafferty, who’s to say you would have fared any better?
Poster by Gothikana Art