I have often heard it said that perception is everything. In my humble opinion, this is a very true statement. Now if you look up the word perception in the dictionary, there is a long, scientific explanation of the word that well, pretty much just gives me a headache. So I decided to give you the Sugar Magnolia definition of the word perception and I can sum it up in one story about a Southern Baptist country girl and an accused murderer. Here goes.
In the past 15 years I have had the opportunity to work for a couple of criminal defense attorneys. I must tell ya, for a country girl from a two red light town, who was raised in a strict Southern Baptist family, this journey was quite the experience. Boy did I learn some stuff! More than anything else though, I learned alot about myself and my perception of things. I found that perception is largely based upon the experiences we have encountered in our lives. Every experience we have, shapes and forms our perception, and our view of the world around us. These life experiences also shape and form our perception and view of ourselves and others.
Enter Jake. Once upon a time I went to work as an assistant to a criminal defense attorney here in our town. He had been court assigned to a murder case and the accused young man, whom I will call Jake for this article, was entitled to speak with his attorney every day if he liked and he pretty much did. But in order to get to his attorney he had to first go through me. Many times when he called, the attorney would be in court and Jake would only get to talk to me. Poor boy.
I remember the first time I spoke with him. My mind was screaming, "Oh my goodness! You are actually speaking with a real, live accused murderer!" You see, I had all of these preconceived ideas of what murderer would look like, sound like, BE like. My perception of a murderer was actually very far off the mark of what my first encounter with a murderer turned out to be.
Jake was very young, barely out of his teens. The voice I heard on the other end of that phone line was that of a very scared little boy. As I began to learn more about Jake, my perception of him began to change. Let me explain.
Jake's mom was a piece of work. She had been married numerous times and when she wasn't married she was "shacked up" with this man or another and she drug Jake with her wherever she went. Jake had been abused by these men in every horrible, conceivable fashion that you can imagine, sexually, physically and emotionally. The man that Jake was accused, and later convicted, of murdering was one of these men.
It appears that the mom and the boyfriend got into an argument and the boyfriend was beating the mom. She managed to get to a gun and she shot him but...she didn't kill him. She runs to find Jake and begs him to help her. Jake in a fit of rage and frustration takes the gun from his mom and fires the final killing shot. They then wrap the man in a shower curtain and leave him in the bathtub for a few days until they can figure out what to do with the body. They eventually bury it out at the beach where it stays buried and undetected for about a year and then one day, the body "pops up" and Jake's worst nightmares come back to life so to speak. The mom and Jake are arrested, tried and convicted of murder.
I must admit in the beginning I had a perception of what a murderer would be like. I had set rules in my mind of how such a person should be treated and how I would feel about them. I had no mercy or understanding in my heart. Murder was just inconceivable to me. It was one of those really "bad sins" that there was just no wiggle room on. Now, don't get me wrong, I am not excusing or advocating murder for any reason. What Jake did was wrong and he will be paying the price for it for a very long time. His own mother turned on him in the end and tried to pin the whole rap on him.
The point of this gruesome, and drawn out story is, that our perception of things changes as we grow and change. My cousin, Kester Rice, once said it can be foolish to draw a line in the sand and tell yourself that you will never cross it. I think I know what he means. Perception. A very intricate and complicated word.