It's a situation beyond comprehension for any parent, and it's a situation that raises questions like:
Is it even possible to forgive your own child for taking the life of another one of your children? How do you cope with a situation like this? How do you manage to find hope, to find the strength to continue to live on?
Charity did forgive her son, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison, and visits him on a regular basis.
She has since founded the ELLA Foundation, an organization to support people with mental illnesses, juveniles in the prison system, and victims of trauma – but also supports those who might be in prison for life for causing this trauma.
An intimate, deep conversation with an incredibly strong and inspiring woman that has overcome the unthinkable and found strength, hope, love, and passion again and now helps other victims of trauma to do the same.
00:00:00 Episode Teaser
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Charity Lee is the Founder and Executive Director of The ELLA Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Savannah, Georgia. The foundation’s mission is to aid and advocate on behalf of those affected by violence, mental illness and the criminal justice system.
Charity is the daughter of a murdered father, daughter of an acquitted mother, mother of a murdered daughter and mother of a murderer.
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Her father was murdered in the family home in 1981, when Charity was just 6. Her mother was subsequently charged with, tried for and acquitted of, murder-for-hire in his death. During her youth and young adulthood, she struggled with mental health and addiction issues, gave birth to two children, Paris and Ella Lee, and led a relatively normal life.
Everything changed on February 4, 2007, when Charity's 13-year-old son, Paris, murdered his 4-year-old sister, Ella.
One month after Ella’s murder, the Texas Youth Commission, the juvenile agency that would soon have permanent custody and care of Charity's son, was put under federal indictment for the physical and sexual abuse of children in their care.
Believing her son, despite being mentally ill and in need of treatment, deserved to be treated with unconditional love and forgiveness, Charity became an advocate for juvenile justice reform. Over time, her advocacy expanded to include adult prisoners, Death Row inmates, families of murder victims and victims of family violence.
Although these populations may appear to have conflicting needs, Charity has learned from her years as a woman defined by violence that once violence has occurred there are no longer “sides” — there are just those who suffer because violence has finally found them.
In spite of living in a world turned upside down by the loss of both her children, Charity found her calling, and that led to the creation of The ELLA Foundation.
The ELLA Foundation is grounded in the belief that we can empower people affected by violence to become effective advocates for good in their own lives and advocates for change in their communities with ELLA: Empathy, Love, Lessons and Action.
More than an advocate, Charity is also a prolific speaker who has spoken on topics as far ranging as motherhood, the death penalty, mass incarceration, forgiveness, empathy and empathy training for correctional officers.
She has shared her story and example of unconditional love for others — regardless of what they’ve done or had done to them — with thousands in the United States, Canada and Africa.
Charity speaks in prisons and makes visits to Texas’ Death Row while advocating and supporting the families of murder victims and murderers. She has also been arrested on the steps of the United States Supreme Court for protesting the death penalty and has volunteered hundreds of hours as a Certified Crisis Interventionist with the San Antonio Police Department.
Charity is a certified Crisis Interventionist with over 2,000 hours of volunteer experience, a certified Anger Management Specialist, a certified Theft Addiction Specialist, a certified Seeking Safety facilitator and developer of numerous evidence-based programs for those affected by violence.
She is also the subject of the worldwide-distributed, full-length documentary The Family I Had, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Charity is available for speaking engagements, panel discussions, class facilitation, keynote addresses and is open to ideas and suggestions for more opportunities to spread The ELLA Foundation‘s message of Empathy, Love, Lessons and Action for those affected by violence.
Contact Charity at email@example.com to book a speaking engagement.
Connect with Charity – The ELLA Foundation
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2:26 Rob Konrad
Hey welcome. This is Rob Konrad from Switzerland. There are tragedies in life that seems so overwhelming and so impossible and so unlikely and so cruel that makes you wonder how anyone affected could ever possibly recover. And yet there are some amazing and extraordinary people who not only do recover, but somehow manage to find forgiveness and love and become stronger and manage to become happy again. Today's guest is such an extraordinary person because her story is one of incredible tragedy but it's also a story of an inspiration for exactly this kind of strength and hope.
3:05 Rob Konrad
In February of 2007 Charity Lee's four year old daughter Ella, was murdered, not only murdered but murdered by her own brother Charity's 13 year old son Paris. Charity is here with me today, and we'll talk about how she was able to find hope and happiness in the 11 years this has happened, how she found forgiveness and love and how the Ella foundation that she started in the name of her daughter is helping victims of trauma and violent crimes and mental illnesses. So I want to thank you for taking the time and thank you for sharing your story, Charity Lee.
3:43 Charity Lee
Good to be here, thank you. I am being attacked by a cat right now, hold on. Okay, it's good to be here.
3:57 Rob Konrad
So Charity, next February it will be 12 years since Ella passed away. So how are you today?
4:04 Charity Lee
Today I'm okay. February 4, 2007 was the day she died. So yes, February 4, it'll be 12 years. I think about it, I have started to think about it. But I don't really dwell on it until about a month before the event. One of the ways that I have found to cope with this kind of tragedy and trauma is to try to be present in the moment I have in front of me. It's taken a long time to be able to do that but it does help. And now as opposed to the past, say the first, it took a good six or seven years to not be completely overwhelmed on anniversaries. But for the past four or five years, it's like the dynamic has shifted. Instead of the anniversaries owning me or taking over me I've kind of taken over the anniversaries and I try to do something to honor Ella on those days.
5:36 Rob Konrad
So what is it that you do in those days?
5:40 Charity Lee
Different rituals I guess for different anniversaries, because in my mind the two big ones are always the day she was born and the day that she died. So on the anniversary of the day she died, which is the one coming up and I do this for her birthday also, the mental process is I go through is this it's just a different timeline. For some reason, usually around 24 hours before the anniversary, whether it be death or birthday I start thinking like I'll look at the clock and it's like I start to do a mental countdown like you know well this time 12 years ago, like, especially like on the day that she died, you know, we were doing this. And this time 12 years ago, according to what my son tells me is about the time that he decided to kill her. And then when it gets to the time that, you know, we know that Ella died, that's when the majority of the pain comes in on that day.
6:55 Charity Lee
But then on her birthday, I stop and I think, oh, this is the time that I went into labor and oh this is the time that I just wanted somebody to shoot me because it hurts so bad. This is the time that I saw our friend the first time and so it's quite the opposite process but they're both, sad and overwhelming. So, on her death day, what I used to do when we were still living in Texas, when I was still living in Texas, was, you know in Hispanic culture, they have Dia de los Muertos, which is in November, but what they do is, they build altars, and they light candles, and they set out food as a way to, because they believe on that day, their loved ones come back, and they have a day on earth and they can commune with them. So on her death day, that's what I would do, I would build her an altar and light her candles. I still have the candle from her memorial service. I light it, one day a year on her birthday, and I try to honor her memory that way.
8:18 Charity Lee
Now, more recently, in the past three or four years, I will normally try to roll out a new program through the foundation on her anniversary days, whether it be a death day, _____ try to but not always but try to have a new program ready to debut. This year, I think we're going to try to have a new program ready, I'm working on a couple. But we'll just have to see how it goes. And then also now that I have a five year old, well, he doesn't participate in the death day rituals, he usually goes with his grandmother on those days. But he definitely participates in the birthday rituals. Because on the birthdays, we still, I still have her cake made that says, Happy birthday, Ella, whatever age she would be. I write her a letter. ____ I would be saying to her at that particular age. This year, she would be what 17. I'm sure I would be telling her to stay out of trouble. Please stay out of trouble. So you develop your rituals to deal with the trauma, or one should develop rituals, rituals help keep us sane. Yeah.
10:10 Rob Konrad
So maybe for those who are not familiar with the backstory or the story that the tragedy that happened in 2007, could you explain in your own words, what happened on that day?
10:25 Charity Lee
Yeah, so I mean, in a nutshell, on February 4, 2007, I had gone to work and I had a babysitter who was at home with my children and she left early. And my son, who was 13 years old at the time, murdered his sister. He beat her and choked her and ultimately stabbed her 17 times and then called 911 and turned himself in.
11:06 Rob Konrad
Okay, and what was the reason that he did that?
11:11 Charity Lee
The reason he gave them or the reason we know now, or both?
11:17 Rob Konrad
Both, I guess.
11:18 Charity Lee
Yeah, the reason he gave at the time, like immediately at the time on the 911 call is he said the he essentially had a psychotic break, and was hallucinating and thought that she was being attacked by some sort of demon and that was he was trying to save her. And then at some point, he realized that it was Ella but that all turned out to be a lie. And it was quite different than that. Now, what we know is that, in a nutshell, he wanted to kill somebody, and he wanted to hurt me. His original plan was to murder us both. But he told me later that he realized after killing his sister, that it was much harder than he thought it would be to murder somebody not mentally or emotionally but physically harder to murder somebody than he realized. And since he and I were about the same size at that time, since he was just 13 he was worried that he wouldn't be able to kill me and he would be the one who was hurt. So he realized at some point, and this is all I mean, this is all from conversations that Paris and I have had. I'm not like putting words into his mouth. It's the things he's told me. He realized at some point that if he let me live, he told me basically, he was like, I knew Mama, if I killed you, you would suffer for about 15 or 20 minutes but if I let you live, you would suffer for the rest of your life.
13:38 Rob Konrad
Why did he want to make you suffer?
13:42 Charity Lee
That's a really good question. I mean, there were things that I had done as a mother, I had when I was a teenager, I had drug addiction issues and had been sober for 12 years. Yeah, 11 and a half years or so. I hadn't had any problems with addiction for 11 and a half years, but when he was about 11, and a half years old, maybe 12 years old, I relapsed for a six month period of time. And he was justifiably very angry about that. He had a really good mom for 11 and a half years and then all of a sudden he had his mom _____ It was quite tragic for him, I'm sure.
14:50 Charity Lee
But he has since admitted that he had his first homicidal thought around the age of eight years old, which is around the time his sister was born. But I don't think we really understand enough about people like Paris, to know why they want people to suffer other than it just it seems to be their preference. And he thought that he had issues with me, or he did have issues with ______ because I have some reasons but even when you have a reason, like that, you're still just like, but why, why did it have to be this way? Why did it have to be your sister? Especially 12 years later looking back on it, I know a lot more about his mental state of mind, his emotional limitations. But unless we think that way there's only so far I can go on explaining it before I too get to why, like, why?
16:19 Rob Konrad
So Paris has been diagnosed meanwhile with schizophrenia?
16:29 Charity Lee
No, no, no. No diagnosis of schizophrenia. The general consensus, he has not been formally diagnosed as an adult, because we started to have testing done when he was an adolescent. But he shut the testing down when the results started coming back, showing that he has all the characteristics of someone with a diagnosis of anti personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. In layman's terms, and Paris and I both, we agree on this, I don't necessarily like the term because when you say it, it makes people think of like, it narrows down what people think about him. But in layman's terms he is a sociopath.
17:26 Rob Konrad
A sociopath, okay.
17:30 Rob Konrad
You are still in touch with Paris on a regular basis, right? And what I found most surprising when I first heard about your story was that you've forgiven your son, and you love your son.
17:45 Charity Lee
17:46 Rob Konrad
So for something as terrible as this to happen, it seems surprising that you can say that you still love your son because he obviously what he did was the most terrible thing that he could do to you and he did so intentionally. So it wasn't an _____ of no. Drug induced, rage or something he did so he planned to do it and he did so intentionally so, did it take long for you to love him? Did you stop loving him at some point when this happened, or was it just a motherly love that just continued? Can you talk it was about that?
18:28 Charity Lee
Yeah, I mean, I never stopped loving him. Now, was that difficult some days? Yes. It was very difficult very many days. And it still is sometimes. He is not an easy person to deal with. Well, he's a sociopath and he's a narcissist. So, I mean, even just dealing with a narcissist, and a narcissist alone is very difficult, because everything's about them, me, me, me, me, me, you know. And then he has these sociopathic tendencies on top of it. And, I mean, there are days, and there have been months at times, where I'm like, you know what kiddo, I love you, but I'm taking a break. I need, some space mentally to deal with you, or to build up the strength again to deal with you, especially when he was younger after he committed the murder. But I didn't ever stop loving him, no matter how much rage, and there was a lot of rage. He was always my son first.
19:56 Charity Lee
And when Paris was born, I made him a promise that I would love him no matter what and that I would always do the best I could to be the best mom I could to him. Now, obviously, I wasn't able to always keep that second part of the promise because I did relapse. And parents do make mistakes. And they don't always do what's best for their child. Even a parent of an average kid ______ I was feeling that the love my parent had for me, was very conditional. And so I was determined that my child was not going to grow up with that feeling.
21:05 Charity Lee
And so when he murdered his sister, I thought about all the times that I screwed up as a kid and I mean, in some of my screw ups and obviously, I never killed anybody. But I came pretty close to killing myself more than once. And I thought about how much I needed a _____ didn't necessarily agree with me, but I knew they had my back. So that's what I wanted to be for Paris.
21:45 Rob Konrad
Sorry I just lost you there for a second.
21:50 Rob Konrad
After you talk about the unconditional love that you want to give him, could you repeat what you last said?
21:56 Charity Lee
Yeah, I just, I didn't really feel like I got that growing up. So I just I became determined that that's what I was going to give my child. I made a promise to him. And I mean, for me, people ask me all the time, like, how did you do it? How do you do it? And I kind of am like, well, how do you not? That's my baby. I carried him in my body. I was there with him for 13 years, even when I relapsed, I was still struggling to be a mother, you know? And it's just like, how could you not? As a parent, the way that I think about parenting is you don't have a baby and say, well, I'm going to love you as long as you do A, B, C, but if you did this, that's it, I'm just turning off that love. That's just not how it worked for me.
23:07 Charity Lee
I mean, the love that I have for my children, all three of my children, it's very fierce, and it goes very, very deep. And there is also the fact that I am his mother and yes, I was his victim also. But he was still my child, he was still my baby, my firstborn, deeply loved him and felt connected to him. I still do. And I, you know, I was the adult, I was his mother, and he needed, he was 13 years old, he was still a child. He needed a mother, he needed a parent. Now I had to deal with the rage. I certainly had rage. But I tried to, as best I could not take it out on him. Now, that doesn't mean that he didn't know how angry I was, or he didn't know my feelings on the matter. I've always been a very honest and blunt person with my children and the people in my life. But it meant not taking it out on him in an inappropriate way.
24:41 Charity Lee
I have a story I always tell. There was one time I went to go visit Paris, and this was before he was sentenced.The investigation was still ongoing. We were still learning things about the fact that what he did was intentional. Like, it wasn't like things were getting any better. Things were getting worse. And in the room next to us was a girl. She was maybe 15 or 16 years old. And she had gotten a visit from her father and he was just, I mean, he was yelling at her and he was calling her all these horrible names that I would never call my child. And just talking to her like, she was a piece of trash. And all she had done, and it's okay but all she had done was skip school and smoke some pot. I mean, he was yelling so loud, he was interrupting our visit and I finally just couldn't take it anymore. And I was like, I got up and I walked over there to their little visitation room. And I was like, would you please just shut up and quit talking to your daughter that way. She skipped school and smoked some pot, big deal. I'm trying to have a visit with my child. And I like went and I sat back down and I remember thinking like, how am I not yelling at Paris like this? Because I certainly have every right to do so. Like even ____ I think I lost you. There we go. But it just didn't feel right.
26:57 Rob Konrad
And did Paris give any explanation in the beginning or did he just back out from what happened?
27:07 Charity Lee
Paris.To be honest, Paris was a little asshole for a good four or five years after the murder, maybe even longer. He didn't really start to mellow out in his treatment towards me till he was about I guess 19. And what it took was me reaching the point finally, where I was like, you know what? I was like, you're not a child anymore, when about 18. And I was like, you can even fake it, you know, until you, like, I established some much clearer boundaries because he was not a child anymore and he kept stepping over those boundaries. And so I just didn't talk to him for a year. And after that I think he was like, he got a deeper appreciation of oh, like this is what happily my mom does for me, because he's a narcissist. So it all comes back to what it does for him. But after that, he started to kind of mellow out, but when he first was arrested, he was cruel. All of a sudden, he was a completely different person.
29:14 Charity Lee
I mean, people have a hard time believing me, I think sometimes, but Paris was a great kid. I mean, he was loving and affectionate with me. He was very helpful with his sister. We did have, we had arguments and things like that, he was still my child and then things were rough and he was angry, definitely during the time that I relapsed. But there was nothing major that somebody could look at and be like, oh, that's what happened. But afterwards, it was like, he was a completely different person. In fact, he told me one time, I guess it was four or five months after the murder and I mean, I was a wreck. I was severely traumatized and trying still, to navigate the criminal justice system that I really knew nothing about at the time and figure out like what happened to my son so I can get him help, like, how do I fix him and grieving Ella. There was two parts of my brain trying, one part that had to figure out who Paris is, and how to deal with him and how to help him and then this other side of me, that was just completely overwhelmed with grief. But I was also grieving Paris too even though he was still here because I was grieving the child that I had. I didn't even know who he was.
31:34 Charity Lee
There was a time about four or five months after the murder, where I went to go see him, and I can't remember when it happened, something happened that day, I found out something or other, I was always finding out new stuff. And I just I couldn't stop crying. I mean, I couldn't stop crying. And I think I asked him something like, Paris, just what the hell like, how did this happen? Like, you've got to give me something because I'm like, I need something to hold on to. And he just kind of looked at me and no empathy or compassion or pain on his face for the fact that like his mother was literally crying. He just had this grin on his face and he was like, you know, he goes, y'all are just also fucking stupid. And I was like, what? And he was like, y'all have all just been so fucking stupid. And he was like, all this time you thought I was intelligent, and handsome, and charming, and artistic, and creative and helpful. He was like, you're also fucking stupid. He was like, none of you saw the real me. And I remember just looking at him and being like, no, no, like, the way that I see it is, you're the stupid one now because you are all of those things but you chose to throw all of that away and become whatever this is. So he was quite cruel, for quite a while. And he only got worse as time went on.
33:41 Rob Konrad
Did he ever apologize for what he did?
33:49 Charity Lee
Not really. I mean, when he was younger, every now and then he would be like mom, I'm sorry. Like he had eaten the last of the potato chips and left the bag in the closet or something. But he is not capable of a sincere apology, because he's not sorry. And I mean, we have very blunt conversations now about the fact that he just doesn't feel empathy. He told me the other day, we were talking about who he is and he was like, mom I know that when I think about what I did to Ella, I'm supposed to open this drawer somewhere inside of me and there's empathy and guilt. And he was like, but when I open that drawer, it's just empty, it's just not there. I'm like, yeah, I know. I mean, I've come to accept that about him.
34:59 Rob Konrad
I'm sure you've asked yourself this question a million time, but was there anything ever that, in hindsight, could have foreshadowed what would happen?
35:08 Charity Lee
Okay, so this is what I tell people all the time. There are little things that happened but even if you add them all together, you still wouldn't come to the conclusion that this is who he is now. And at the time they happen, it's not one of those things that would make you go, oh, warning, warning, warning. Some of it can be explained the way but oh, well, that's what kids do or when he got a little bit older, oh, well, he's a teenager now and he's trying to figure out who he is.
35:58 Charity Lee
And so the two that I'm thinking of are, when he was little, maybe three or four years old, my mother had a farm in North Carolina, up in the mountains and the house had just kind of built into the side of a mountain. And so the porch of the house was really high off the ground, probably a good 25 or 30 feet. And it was raining really hard one day, and whenever it was raining really hard there in a particular time of the year, frogs would just come out from everywhere. _____ frog looked like the plague. And I walk outside on the porch and Paris had a bucket. Paris had a bucket full of frogs. And he was, again, he was three, four years old. He was taking the frogs one by one and throwing them over the rail. A concrete driveway below and the frogs were dying. And I was like Paris, whoa, what are you doing? And he was like, well, I just like the sound that they make when they hit the bottom. And I'm like, okay, no honey, we need to talk about this. Those are frogs they have, they can feel ______ killing them. And he was like, oh, okay, and you know, was it cruel? Yes. Have I seen other children do cruel things to animals when they're that age? Yes.
38:03 Rob Konrad
Yeah, I just want to say that something that probably a lot of kids do because they just don't know better. I mean, it's not like he was intentionally torturing them with sticks and poking your eyes out to make them suffer just like something like they made a nice sound, like kids throw eggs all around the kitchen because it sounds nice like that.
38:21 Charity Lee
Yeah, I mean, it's just one of those moments that you have. I mean, I remember doing things when I was three or four years old, like pouring salt on a slug, to see what happens to it. Now as an adult, I'm like, oh my gosh, that's horrible that had to hurt so bad. But when you're young, you just you don't know. And, you know, whatever misgivings I've had or whatever emotional reaction that engendered in me at the moment was put to rest because there were a couple of frogs that had not died instantly and then I had to tell my son Paris this is one of the reasons why we shouldn't be doing this because look like this one is still alive and it's in pain and it's hurting. Now, we have to put it out of its misery, we can't let it continue to live in pain like this. And Paris, was like, I can't do that mom. Like, he could not. And so I had to, you know, put the frog out of its misery.
39:37 Charity Lee
And then, when he was older, there was an incident where I discovered that he had been wearing some of my undergarments. Now, in our household, it has always been like, we have no problem with people who are gay, or lesbian or transgender, transvestite, it's like people, as my five year old Phoenix says, I do me and you do you. That's kind of our mentality, so I didn't have a problem with the fact that he had been experimenting. I had often wondered when he was growing up, if Paris might be gay or bisexual. And so when I discovered my undergarments in his room, we just sat down and we had to talk about it. You know, why are these in here? And do you have questions because he was 13 like, do you have questions and is there anything that you want to ask me? And we decided together, because he told me that the reason he had them is because he wondered what it was like to be female or specifically, he wondered what it was like to be me. Well, I didn't really have a good answer to that because it wasn't an issue that I had ever dealt with. I have always been fine with being a girl, I feel like one inside and out. So we agreed together to have him go talk to a counselor. And I made sure he knew that it wasn't because I thought there was anything wrong with what he was doing. It was just that I felt like it was something that because I didn't know much about it and because he was a 13 year old boy, he might feel more comfortable working through it with somebody who understood it better. I don't care how close you are to your child I'm sure, it's hard for a 13 year old boy to be talking to his mother about any kind of sex. So he agreed to that. He would like to have somebody else besides me to talk to it but the door open all the time that he could still talk to me. But he murdered Ella the day before his appointment. So and now we know that there are some sexual and sexuality issues that are part of Paris's current mindset. We know that now, didn't know it at the time.
43:00 Rob Konrad
So the day before it happened, was there anything unusual? Was there anything that you say change in behavior, or?
43:09 Charity Lee
Yeah, the weekend that it all happened he was being very difficult to deal with. I had to work most of that weekend and he snuck out of the house one night, to go down to the local skateboard park. I didn't know about it, the babysitter didn't tell me this was the night before ____ on the next day when Ella told me that, Paris had gotten in trouble for sneaking out. And then that day that he actually killed her, he was very angry with me because he had been, I mean, there was consequences for his behavior. And he also was angry because Paris was given an allowance at the beginning of every month. Just, and the reasoning behind giving it to him all up front, at the beginning of the month, was so he could also learn how to budget management. Well, he had gone to the mall that weekend, with the babysitter and Ella and he had spent all his money at one time. He was mad at me, because I had told him, okay, no, that's not the point of getting an allowance like this, you have to make it last all month long and so what I told him was, you need to pick one or two things that you would like to keep now and the rest, we're taking back, to get your money back and learn how to budget yourself.
45:19 Charity Lee
Well, he was really angry about that and I remember when I left home that day to go to work, he would barely talk to me. And I also remember that the very last thing I said to my son, when I left was I gave him a big hug, which he did not return, kiss, which he did not return and I remember telling him, you know, Paris, I love you and we've gone through hard times before and we've gotten through them. And so we're going to get through this too. And then that was the last time I saw him before I some at the police station next day.
46:11 Rob Konrad
But none of this sounds unusual. I mean, 13 years old, playing with their sexuality in one way or the other or being mad at best being grounded or whatever, it's something that's 13 year old worries. I mean, that's nothing usual, so there was really nothing. And it seems strange that it's almost like you're talking about two different kinds of persons, like the person before, the person after like those would be two completely different people. And I mean, I've seen your documentary in their snippets, and there were Paris playing with your daughter and he seems like a perfectly normal child, not like a grumpy recluse or something so it's really, yeah.
46:59 Charity Lee
Yeah, but Paris is a very smart child and now grown man. And I mean, you have to remember then in like those home movies you saw where he's playing with Ella, he was already having homicidal thoughts. At the age of eight or nine, he fantasized about decapitating me because he had gone on PlayStation restriction and he had worked out this fantasy where he was just going to decapitate me while I slept. And then he and Ella would get to do whatever they wanted all weekend and then he was just going to call his grandmother when it was time to go to school and evidently I'm going to be in the bed decapitated this whole time. He was already thinking homicidal thoughts.
48:02 Charity Lee
But kids are dumb. People are always like, oh, you know how kids are so innocent. Kids are smart. Kids know that you do not go around saying to adults, hey, I'm thinking about decapitating you, because then the adults are going to be like, oh, whoa, okay. Well, hopefully, adults are going to be like, oh, we need to address this issue. So, people have a hard time believing like, well, he was thinking that. He would have been acting this way. Well, no. _____ do act out but not all of them.
48:58 Rob Konrad
Okay. I think I lost you there for a second.
49:05 Rob Konrad
So there's nothing that seems unusual when you hear about it, so when all of this happened, how did you cope and how did you heal? I mean, the first moments must have been like a bad dream, that never happened. But how did you cope over time and heal over time? What was the process?
49:36 Charity Lee
Well, in my own way I became a lot like Paris in the fact that it was like I was ______ just for different people. On the one hand, I was, trying to think, what's the best way to describe it, because even to me, I still have moments where I'm like, how did I do all that. On the one hand I was falling apart, I lost 35 pounds in two weeks. I was so traumatized that I was, I think I was in shock for quite a while. I couldn't speak without stuttering. I mean, I cried non stop. It felt like for a year, a year and a half. I used to go the grocery store just tears running down my face because everything I would see would trigger it. Kids, with their parents, kids arguing with their parents, kids anywhere, just, everything.
51:03 Charity Lee
Especially after Paris was sentenced, was going away, I was self medicating with drinking and the doctors kept me supplied with plenty of Xanax and sleeping pills. But at the same time, I was doing everything I could to still be a parent and mother my child and dealing with lawyers. I mean, I was being investigated also, by the Child Welfare authorities and the police. I hadn't committed any crime but I was being investigated and so I had all of that.
51:54 Charity Lee
But I think really, when it comes down to it I have a book coming out soon, hopefully, soon and I've been working on it and it has to do with those early days after Ella died and kind of what led up to the creation of the foundation. The theme that I'm noticing as I'm going back and looking at my own writings and stuff from the time is, the way that I dealt with it was like I didn't try to stop myself from feeling any of it, like I really had a choice but instead of running away from it, I dove into it. If I'm going to be angry, be angry. Who cares what everybody thinks. I have a right to be angry, or if I need to cry all day long, cry all day long. Who cares what people think when you're at the grocery store crying on their apples, dive into it.
52:58 Charity Lee
But when it comes time to make decisions at the end of the day, or when it's decision time, make all of those decisions and all of your actions on the fact based on the love you feel not ____ , not the rage, and I think that's what kept me going. Stay focused on the fact that I loved my children because also, a lot of people are like, you don't speak for Ella or where's Ella's voice. And I don't think those people understand that the way that I speak for Ella, and the way that I've always spoken for Ella is to not become like Paris, to focus on _____ , because I made a promise to Ella the night that she died. I'm real big about keeping promises to my kids. I think that's why I make them because I know once I say I promise, I'm going to do everything I can to actually keep that promise. But I promised her that I wasn't going to let her die for nothing. I would make something meaningful come out of this. And I think that people who say that I shouldn't still love Paris or I shouldn't have forgiven him or I don't speak for Ella, I don't think they understand that the way that I've handled all of this has been for Ella and because of Ella.
54:45 Charity Lee
Because if Ella had grown up the kind of person I would have wanted her to be is somebody who's loving, and compassionate and forgiving, and tries to help people. So I stayed focused on that. I guess there's a lot of it but I've had my promises to keep me going. I've had promises that I've had to keep. So even when I didn't want to you go back to your promise.
55:25 Rob Konrad
In the first time and we talked about this when we had our first conversation, and there was no help from anyone externally. So you didn't receive any help from social workers. You didn't receive any help from the police, from the system let's put it this way. And so this is something your organization tries to offer support for victims of violence and crime.
55:52 Charity Lee
Yeah, so my organization does kind of offer help to all people involved. I received help from certain individuals and as much as they were able to help me through a situation like this, it's not a very common situation. I looked at the statistics on it one time and ______ , Federal Bureau of Investigations here there's about and it's remained pretty much at this number, over the years, about 35 cases, a year of siblings killing siblings, and of those cases, under the age of 18 and of those cases, the number of siblings who intentionally kill another sibling are like one. I think maybe Paris was the one in 2007. It's not common. So most people aren't even, I mean the individuals helped as much as they were able to but the systems in place, they were horrible. Like I just said, I was investigated by the police, I was investigated by the Child Welfare Services. They wanted to press charges against me for child neglect. So there was no help there.
57:41 Charity Lee
So what I knew through the foundation is try to give people who are going through trauma, or dealing with incarceration, that kind of support without judgment.
58:03 Rob Konrad
So how does the support look like in practice?
58:07 Charity Lee
It looks like different things for different people. Sometimes support means just listening to a mother whose child has been murdered, or listening to a mother whose child is sitting in prison or starting support groups for whole groups of people who have experienced that kind of thing to get together and talk to one another, or support has meant the past that I've made visits to death row for mothers who aren't able to go see their children as often as they would like, and you don't want to leave somebody sitting there on death row alone for months at a time without a visit from a kind face. Or teaching classes, I've taught tons of classes to women who are dealing with addiction issues and trying to get their children back. I mean, it's been 12 years, we, the foundation, or I have done through the foundation so many things, it's hard to name them all. We've had groups for children whose parents are incarcerated where they get to write their own story, kind of rewrite their own story. It was called the I have a voice program. They would come in and we would talk about a particular topic on that day, how does it feel when you go see your parent in prison, and they would get to tell you their experience of their story, and then they write it down and then at the end of it we put together a book and I got to tell their own story, take back their story, express themselves, sometimes for the first time about how it all was affecting them.
1:00:22 Charity Lee
I became a certified crisis interventionist, and I used to ride with the San Antonio Police Department officers out on patrol and offer Crisis Intervention Services at crime scenes. I do speaking where I go and I tell my story and open ____ people ask me whatever questions they want to ask.
1:01:01 Charity Lee
Right now we're doing a program in town called ‘Let's Talk' and they are community discussions. We have events that are open to the community and various topics are discussed. So right now we're doing let's talk mental health, mental illness. We've done one on family trauma. The next one we're doing is on childhood trauma and then we're doing one on mental illness and people of color, mental illness and faith. ______ Do all kinds of stuff.
1:01:54 Rob Konrad
1:01:56 Rob Konrad
One of the things I'm sure many people are wondering is if something like that happened to me I would not have the strength to cope with this, something that many people think. If a situation like this _____ you catapult through and then here we are now, but I'm sure a lot of people think okay, I couldn't do this. So what do you tell these people? Is it something that you can learn? Is there a process of coping with situations like this that you can learn? Are there certain steps that you can go through to tell people? What's your experience?
1:02:33 Charity Lee
Yeah, just a couple of months ago, actually last month, I went to Texas, and I gave a talk to the agency that had my child incarcerated for six years in the juvenile justice system and they asked me to talk about how to build family resiliency. And so, I talked a lot about resiliency because that's what it comes down to is resiliency, are you resilient? And people think that you're either resilient, or you're not. People do say that to me, oh, I could never deal with what you do. And I'm like you know resiliency is not a superpower. It's not like I am some sort of genetic mutant that has super resiliency, it's something that can be learned, it can be taught, it can be learned. And even if you don't think you have it, you probably do. Because usually what I tell people, I'm like, well, you're sitting here talking to me, aren't you? And I'm sure your life has not been perfect.
1:03:58 Charity Lee
A lot of times I'll get people in a crowd, I'll just say to them, okay, I want you just to take a minute, we're going to take a minute, and you definitely don't have to call any of this stuff out. I want you all to stop and I want you to bring to mind the worst thing that has ever happened to you. And you can see everybody, most people, they're like doing the little eye thing and you know they have something in their head. And then I'll ask them some questions like, now how many people know that this happened to you? And, you know, you see, I'm thinking some more and I'm like, how do you think it would be different if you had told people or you told somebody now?
1:04:54 Charity Lee
And then we just start working through steps like the way you survive these things it's hard but it's not rocket science. You have to have a will to live, which most of us, in fact, I would say all of us, even those that commit suicide, have the will to live. It just it goes against every instinct we have to not want to continue living. And then most of us have something that motivates us to keep doing that, other than the will to live.
1:05:52 Charity Lee
People continue to struggle with their mental health for many reasons. And a lot of those reasons are because I have children, or I have people that love me, or I have people that I wouldn't want to hurt that I love or I'm not going to let that son of a bitch get the best of me. I mean, that was part of it for me, you know, Paris wanted to destroy me. I was like, well, I'm not giving you that. So it's something that can be learned. How to survive trauma? And then once you survive it, then you can learn how to use it to thrive again, to recreate a life again, to have a life again. _____ just because something terrible happens, you have to continue to feel like crap for your entire life.
1:07:02 Rob Konrad
So sharing the experience seems to be a very important part of the whole thing. I mean, actually, many people are afraid that when they share their experience, they might open themselves up to whatever form of criticism or aggression and then something that I've also noticed is when you look at videos about your story in the documentary about your speeches, there are a lot of people that leave mean comments and say, she was a terrible mother, and it's all her fault and she should have seen that earlier and there were warning signs. Probably none of them know you but there are people who always know better.
1:07:42 Charity Lee
Yeah, a lot of people think ______ . I just had, like, ____ that kind of stuff. It's definitely a concern when it comes to opening yourself up. Even if you're not doing it on the level that I'm doing it, you just go and you share it with somebody else. There's the concern of not being accepted or being judged, or like changing their entire perception of you and those are all very valid concerns because what you saw when you were looking at myself, there are plenty of people in the world who will try to hurt you at your time of vulnerability.
1:08:40 Charity Lee
But I guess the way that I think about it, my view of it is, this too is part of learning resiliency. I have a friend who tells me that she's constantly amazed by the fact that after everything I've gone through in my life that I can still be so naive. And I'm like, I'm not naive, I just choose now to focus on the positive and every comment or person that tries to hurt me or hurt the person that's opening up has been an opportunity to learn. I don't have to let somebody else to define me and what happened to me that it's my story. So that's an opportunity to learn confidence, it's opportunity to tell that person well look how you're acting, it says more about you than it does about me, like I'm up here on the high road, and you're like way down here in the gutter. And then to say I'd like to help you if that because usually the people that reach out to me and are so hateful, I'm like if there's anything I can do to help you let go of anger, you just let me know. They don't like that either.
1:10:17 Charity Lee
In my opinion, in my experience, for me personally, and with the people that I work with, the first thing that has to be done or maybe not the first thing, but it has to be done eventually to deal with trauma and anger and rage is to put it out of you. Like to put it into the light. I tell people that the only way to get rid of darkness is to bring it into the light.
1:10:56 Rob Konrad
So in what way could this happen? In what ways could you bring out ___ ? Like writing it down or talking to other people or what could be those ways?
1:11:08 Charity Lee
I mean, it's different for everybody. I've always been in your face talker kind of person. Even when I was younger, when I was a teenager, and I was addicted to heroin and I had an issue with the whole shooting up heroin and stuff. When I finally got sober I was talking about it all the time. The point where my mother was like, do you have to go around telling everybody, you used to be a junkie, and I'm like, yeah, because it's who I am. It helped make me who I am now. There's no shame. I think that's part of it, putting down the shame associated with it all. But for different people there's different ways that fit their way of being. Writing, telling a friend. My grandmother, when I was little, whenever I would get upset about something, she had me write something down on a piece of paper and then we set it on fire and let it go and she's like, that's it, it's out of you now, let it go.
1:12:16 Charity Lee
But there has to be some process of getting it out and then once that happens, hopefully what happens, and this is kind of where the learning skills part comes into it. You don't just go tell anybody, you have to decide who can you trust with the pain. That's where the more intellectual side comes down. Well, obviously you can't tell this person because they're probably going to do this, but maybe I can go talk to Bob over here. And then hopefully you find that once you start letting it out to people that can be trusted, even if it's a complete stranger, right? Sometimes strangers can help you more than people close to you. That they help you to carry that weight. And then you start to realize, okay, well, I've got people helping me, the weight isn't as heavy as it used to be. Because I can guarantee you, because I've worked with some families for a very long time, that I'm not going to say that time heals all wounds, because it doesn't. Some wounds are always going to be wounds.
1:13:42 Charity Lee
But I can guarantee you and promise _______ if you start putting your pain out there, start sharing it somehow, that as time goes on and learning about different ways to cope with trauma, as time goes on, your perspective on it will shift and you will reach a point in life where you realize, oh, my gosh, like, I still have a life and it can be a better life. It doesn't have to be a worse life. My friend calls me naive, but I just say I'm an optimist.
1:14:35 Rob Konrad
1:14:38 Charity Lee
She just thinks I'm naive, because you know, still after everything that's happened to me in my life that I still trust people and have faith that people are good. I tell her that it's not so much being naive that it's just been my experience that I understand better now, having gone through so much myself that everybody struggles. Right. And so I think people essentially are good. And so I think if you operate in the world in such a way that brings out that good in people, then you're going get that good. Yes.
1:15:31 Rob Konrad
It's something we talked about earlier. Our first conversation was you also work with people who are, where it's hard to believe that they're good, like child molesters, for example. So especially when you are parents, it's hard to see, hey, this is a good person, because of what that person has been doing yet, you said it's important to in a way accept these people and and accept the good part of these people. So can you talk a little bit about that since you experience from your work with your organization foundation?
1:16:10 Charity Lee
Yeah. So I think maybe let's clarify things again. I try not to look at people or even situations anymore, as this is good, this is bad. I think those words are very judgment laden. You hear, oh, this person's good and that's just kind of judgy. And then oh this person's bad, well, that's a judgment too right. And in my work, and in the way that I choose to go through life, I don't want to judge people. That's not really my place. I don't want people judging me. I hate when people judge me. I mean, and it works both ways. And people that are like, oh, she's an evil monster, and she should never have bread. I get people. I don't like those judgments. But then I also have a problem sometimes with all the people who are like, oh, my God, you are amazing, you are like this wonderful human being because then I'm like, yeah, I've got bad, you know, like, this human. And so I try not to even though I just use them, try to move away from the good and bad.
1:17:32 Charity Lee
What I do is I try to see the humanness in everybody, right. And all human beings are capable of terrible acts. We may not believe it, or we may not want to admit to it, but all human beings are capable of terrible things, whether it be because of a mental disorder, or something going on in the environment that tends to make a human being just do terrible things. So I try when I'm interacting with some of our clients, to see past what they did and instead see who they are, the full spectrum of who they are.
1:18:40 Charity Lee
And so, when you and I talked before, and I gave me the example of working with _________ on a personal, it was difficult for me emotionally because I had experienced childhood sexual abuse. And I know what their victims or I can imagine what their victims may have felt as a consequence of being victimized by this person. But my job is not to judge. My job is not to sit there and think about me at that moment. I'm there for them and so what I had to do in that particular situation is focus on the ______ . There are commonalities. People want to be like, I don't have anything in common with ____ .
1:19:54 Rob Konrad
Could you repeat last sentence?
1:19:56 Charity Lee
Oh, yeah. Well, I think the first thing that I have to do when working with clients that are pedophiles is admit that yes there are commonalities because we're both humans, there are areas in our lives that I could probably find where we can meet on common ground. So for instance, I know what it feels like, because of my experience of being Paris' mother and getting all that hate mail and terrible comments on social media. I know what it feels like to be hated because of who you are. Right. And I know what it feels like because of my early years as an addict and then my relapse to want something that I know I should not have and that I know is not good for me and those around me. I mean, it's not the same as molesting a child. But if I take out the behavior, and instead focus on the emotional and psychological side of something, I can put myself in anybody's shoes and that allows me to help them without focusing on the behavior so much.
1:21:52 Charity Lee
And I think and I try to teach people how to do this because empathy also is something that can be learned. Most people are empathetic. Most people are not wired like Paris, and completely, for the most part, unable to experience it. Most people are capable of it. But because of their learning, their value systems, the environment they grew up in, just the things that they learned from the environment either deaden that empathy, or dull it or covered it up but people can learn to be more empathetic.
1:22:45 Rob Konrad
Yeah, we were talking about working with people who might not apparently deserve attention and how to deal with those people and you and your work. So what kind of support is it that you're offering these people?
1:23:05 Charity Lee
Well, let me back up a second, say it like, I guess the reason that I'm able to do what I do is because you just asked you just made the statement and I'm not calling you out but you just made the statement, like you work with people that a lot of people would think don't deserve the attention.
1:23:23 Rob Konrad
1:23:24 Charity Lee
My mindset is that all people deserve the attention. I mean, I can't give it to everybody. All people deserve need, and in my view, deserve at least one person who will give them that attention and then my mindset is also if somebody doesn't, if we can't wrap our mind around the fact that a person who has just done something horrible, that's when they need the attention the most. If they had had some attention, maybe beforehand, and I know a lot of people are going to say, well, your child did something horrible and maybe he did need more attention, I'm not sure.
1:24:22 Charity Lee
But if we cannot wrap our head around the fact that after somebody has done something horrible is when they most need the attention, then horrible things are going to keep happening. Because this is the time where it's definitely should seem obvious that somebody needs the attention, whether they are the perpetrator or the victim of something traumatic. I can think of no better time, for there to be attention for so many reasons to learn from them, to support them so they don't go even further down a path because somebody might have done something horrible, but they can always do something more horrible. The depths of depravity go deep.
1:25:10 Rob Konrad
Absolutely. I'm being intentionally black and white now but one could say, look, there's this child molester who did horrible things, or there's someone who murdered some people for no obvious reason and they're locked up now so why don't we forget about them? Why care about them after what they did to society, let's put it this way.
1:25:36 Charity Lee
For the state of your own soul. This is what I don't understand is people will sit and they'll be like that person is horrible. They're callous, they're cold, they're uncaring, lock them up, and let them rot in prison. And I'm like, now you're being cold, and callous, and uncaring.You are becoming what you say you hate. And so if for nothing else the state of your own mind and your own soul, give back something different. Because if you want to live in a world where there is kindness, _____ and _____ love then that's what you have to give. Unless you're going to leave enough to everybody else to create that world. And then if that's the case, you can't sit around and complain if that's not the world you live in, because you haven't done anything to try to help make that world. But to me, it's not even question of emotion, it's a question of logic. Did you not hear what you just said? You said that person.
1:27:18 Charity Lee
Okay, I'll tell you a really good story to get a metaphor. My five year old all the time is like you like metaphors too much, mom. But when Paris, my oldest was little, he was four or five years old. We lived in Atlanta and we lived in these, apartments that the family owned. It was in a part of town, they call it Midtown Atlanta. So it wasn't quite downtown, but still a very urban, well populated area. It was on the corner of a very busy intersection. Caddy corner to the apartment was this shopping area where a grocery store was. Well, Paris and I had stopped there after I picked him up from school to get some things at the grocery store and traffic was horrible. I mean horrible. I sat in this parking lot for a good 20 minutes, trying to get out of the parking lot just to get on the road, where I could tell I was going to take me another 15 or 20 minutes to get to the my house that I could see. I was getting very frustrated.
1:28:52 Charity Lee
Well, it was finally my turn to pull into the line of cars, it was actually going to get to go out onto the road the next time the light turned green. And this woman in another car, cut me off and like took my turn from me. So I knew I was going to have to sit there another five minutes waiting for a chance to get on the road. And I just started cussing and being like, oh my god, I can't believe that woman just cut me off and blah blah. And I remember saying she is being such a bitch and Paris, who was very young, he looked at me and he was like, in the back and he's like, why are you getting so mad? His eyes very logical child. Why are you getting so mad? And I said, because I said she being a total, you know. And parents looks at me and he goes, you mean just like you are right now? And I was like, yes, you're right. I'm like, I don't like talking to you. And children do this quite a bit, he completely called me out on the fact that I'm sitting here yelling at this woman for being irritating and frustrating it but that was exactly how I was acting.
1:30:33 Charity Lee
So what I try to do in the work that I do is create the world that I wished we all lived in. And some friends of mine call that naive. I call it hopeful because I really do think if we put it out there, hopefully people will begin to mirror it. Have you ever read any of the research on the fact that people actually have genes in their body up here in the front of their brain essentially called mirror genes?
1:31:17 Rob Konrad
No, not heard of that.
1:31:17 Charity Lee
Okay. It's a fascinating research. So, next time you sit down and you have an in person conversation with somebody, there's a really simple experiment, and you can see it at work. So next time you're talking to somebody face to face, pay attention to what you're doing. So if you are talking and then like, say you _____ within a minute or so, the person you're talking with will probably pick up their hand and do something like that. Or say I sit up right now, then, at one point not long after I sit up, not now that we're talking about it, probably, but you're going to subconsciously sit up or yawning, one person yawns everybody starts to yawn. So scientists started to look into this and it turns out that we actually have an area in front of our brain that causes us to mirror one another. And they hypothesize that the reason for this is because we're social beings and so we're also narcissistic. _______ we start to mirror one another to make us think on some subconscious level that we're alike, therefore, we're connected, therefore, we're going to bond and create this community and this group.
1:31:39 Charity Lee
So I just try to put forth actions and behaviors into the world that I hope other people will begin to mirror, because that's what we do.
1:33:17 Rob Konrad
You said something in an interview, which I really liked. You said, we measure our society by how we treat the ones who harmed us. I really like that because it says a lot about dignity that we have as this society in this species and I really like the statement.
1:33:40 Charity Lee
Yeah, somebody else said that before me. I can't claim ownership of that one. But I believe in the truth of it. If somebody somewhere doesn't stop the cycle, you can't always be going back and forth of, well you hurt me so I'm going to do this to you. And, well, you did that to me so when I get the chance, I'm going to do this to you. You see it a lot like in power dynamics, where you'll have a group of people who have been oppressed, and then they justifiably are like, you can't oppress us anymore, we're going to do something to change the system. And there's lots of different ways to change the system. I'm sure you've heard the expression, the oppressed become the oppressor sometimes.That doesn't solve anything they are just going back and forth.
1:34:46 Charity Lee
So there has to be a way and there's a lot of conversations about this in regards to criminal justice and race relations, and even differences among religious groups and stuff. There has to be a process where wrongs are acknowledged and then rights are created, that are that are based on what's right, for us as a society. And in answering hatred with hatred, all you get is hatred. Answering violence with violence, all you're going to have is violence, it doesn't necessarily make it better. So I just think that, a lot of times, people were like, well, you just want to let people get away. No there has to be accountability. Accountability is the first step in acknowledging that wrongs have been done. I have never said that, I don't believe my child should have lost his freedom. He is a dangerous person, and he should not be walking around in the world at his particular point in his life. And he did take something. He took something extremely precious, he took Ella's life away from her. There has to be an accounting for that.
1:36:26 Charity Lee
But what I have a problem with is how he has been removed from the world because he does still have things that he could offer to society. His intelligence is being entirely underutilized. He is very intelligent person and there are things that he could do, even remove from society that could benefit.
1:37:04 Rob Konrad
1:37:04 Charity Lee
Oh, my gosh, let's see, right now they have Paris like making leather belts and stuff, who's to say that, Paris' mind couldn't be put to work, analyzing research, or, hell even developing, trying to work with psychologist and medical doctors, who are doing the research into people like Paris and let them talk to people and be like, well, if there was anything that now motivates you? What would make you want to change? Don't just send him in there and throw away the key, he could do useful things. Have you ever looked into the Norwegian prison system?
1:38:07 Rob Konrad
1:38:09 Charity Lee
Norway has a much different mentality in their prison systems than America does. Now granted, it's a much smaller country, and they don't have as many people incarcerated. But do you remember the man? I don't remember how long it's been now, five, six years and I can't say his name because I'm terrible with Norwegian names, but the Anders…
1:38:38 Rob Konrad
Breivik, the guy who killed 80 children on the island?
1:38:47 Charity Lee
Yeah, I don't know every single aspect of the case but ultimately they came to the conclusion that he has a mental health disorder. And he does. It was expressed with a, I mean, the lens that he showed it, that he used to show it was based on the extremism, the anti immigration, our race and culture is being degraded and it was a nationalist rhetoric that showed his mental disorder. But they locked him up. He's definitely locked up but he's also provided with as is every person in the Norwegian prison system, that has committed a violent crime, a psychological intervention, with the hope that with the support and the assistance, that they will be able to show him like, okay, listen, like, we know, you feel strongly about these issues but your brain also wasn't working quite right, and maybe support him and help him to change those ways of thinking. Now, he's not showing too much inclination to do that, I believe because at this point, there are certain people that are resistant to that type of help. But at least they're trying. In America, we don't even try.
1:40:43 Rob Konrad
I know you are opponent of the death sentence. And many people would probably say, look, he's a perfect example. I mean, he killed 80, or something innocent children. Why not remove him from this planet and make sure he just never does this again? Get rid of people like him. So what would you say to people who think along those lines?
1:41:11 Charity Lee
Oh, lots of things.Well, if you murder him because in America when somebody is executed that is what goes on their death certificate homicide, because unnatural killing of another human being. Murder does not justify murder. The example that I give is, you have small children, right? Say, they go to school one day and one of your little girls just hit somebody like hauled off and was like, I don't like you and smack, smack, smack and the teacher calls you and they're like, your little girl hit somebody and you bring her home, and you spank her. And while spanking her, you're like, you're not supposed to hit people. It does not make sense. We tell our children and each other that you're not supposed to kill people. The only time we ever tell people that it's okay to kill somebody else is if you're defending yourself, truly defending yourself against imminent death and harm. Then if I can get a moral pass. And I get that, I'm all for self defense, true self defense. But to be like, you're not supposed to kill people, and you killed somebody, and so we're going to kill you it doesn't make sense. And every single one of those people that has been executed, they have families, they have mothers, they have other people that mourn them, hopefully the majority of them do. So you're creating more victims, you're not doing justice, you're creating more victims of murder.
1:43:19 Charity Lee
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that children under the age of 18, are not eligible for the death penalty. Well, that was in 2005. Ella was murdered by Paris in 2007. If he ______ in 2004 or 2005, if it had been before the date, the ruling came down, and he was eligible for the death penalty, and then he killed Ella, then how would that have helped me? It wouldn't have brought her back and I would have two dead children. And both of their death certificates would say homicide, and I'm pretty sure I would not be sitting here now if that had happened. That went and brought about no, this is not just at all. Yes, it's not good.
1:44:29 Charity Lee
And then the whole you made the comment prevent them from committing future acts. No one can read the future. _______ future act. In fact, here in America, the research statistics show that 98% give or take 96, let's just say 95 to 98% of people who commit homicide, never commit another murder again. Now that doesn't mean that they don't commit other criminal acts but is that because they're criminals? Or is it because they didn't have the intervention and support they needed after committing a criminal act.
1:45:24 Rob Konrad
Do you believe in second chances?
1:45:25 Charity Lee
1:45:27 Rob Konrad
What about Paris? When will he get out of prison?
1:45:35 Charity Lee
If he's held the entire time, he will be released in 2047.
1:45:44 Rob Konrad
______ a parole at an earlier date or?
1:45:52 Charity Lee
He is eligible in 2027. But he won't get out when he's eligible. In the state of Texas he's a capital offender because the person he killed was under the age of six. Capital offenders spend typically 85% of their sentence incarcerated. And then if he's paroled out, he would be paroled out on a very highly supervised parole.
1:46:30 Rob Konrad
Would you give him another chance, so to speak, if he got out early?
1:46:39 Charity Lee
I believe I have given Paris many chances. Right? To be a different person. He has not taken any of those chances and I don't think he is capable of taking those chances. So this is what I usually tell people. If he was released today, based on my experience of him to date, I would not feel safe around my child. But I also would not go to the State and be like don't you dare release him. I would go to the State and say, this has been my experience of my child. This is what I am afraid could happen. But ultimately, it's your decision to make. I say all the time, I am so glad I'm not the one who has the power to make the decision about whether he stays or gets out. Because I wouldn't know what to do. I personally have not seen anything in Paris, that convinces me that he has changed, that he is capable of empathy, that he feels remorse. And because he lacks those qualities, I think it makes him dangerous. So I wouldn't want to be around him and I certainly wouldn't want him around my five year old. Go ahead.
1:48:30 Rob Konrad
Is Paris writing letters to Phoenix?
1:48:33 Charity Lee
He was, I put a stop to it.
1:48:36 Rob Konrad
1:48:38 Charity Lee
Yeah, because he wasn't really writing letters to Phoenix, he was writing letters to me saying they were for Phoenix. And finally, I was just like, listen, Phoenix is five years old, these letters that you're writing are obviously not meant for a five year old. You're talking to me, so just talk to me. I tell Paris and I tell Phoenix. I tell Paris, if Phoenix wants to have a relationship with you, that is a decision, he will have to make himself when he is an adult. I'm not encouraging it. But what I tell Phoenix is, I love your brother. I do not trust your brother. I don't expect you, I say this in five year old terms, but I don't expect that just because I do, they have no relationship and one day he'll have to make his own choice.
1:49:58 Rob Konrad
You mentioned that you have forgiven Paris. How do you forgive someone who did something like that? Not in a specific case, but there can be anything where it's hard to to forgive someone, whether there's been an accident, whether someone caused harm intentionally. There are many cases where it almost feels impossible to forgive someone. How do you learn to forgive and open your heart to someone who intentionally or unintentionally caused harm to you or makes it hard to forgive?
1:50:37 Charity Lee
I think the first thing that people have to do is define what forgiveness is, and what it isn't. I think that forgiveness, again, is one of those words like good, bad, sociopath that we hear it, and then this one image pops into your heads of what it is. And forgiveness is very nuanced. It is not as black and white act that we do. So for me what forgiveness means is letting go of the anger and the rage, and seeing a person who harms you, as just that a person who has harmed you, and try to, which means you see them as humans. People tell me all the time, Paris is a monster. No, he's not. He's a human being and so for me, it was an act of letting go of the anger. And I did that, and I wanted to do that, and was able to do that for many reasons and in many ways. I wanted to do that because in the long run, especially with Paris, because he doesn't care if I forgive him or not. I don't think he even quite understands the concept because of his sociopatheon narcissism.
1:53:06 Charity Lee
But for me, it was getting to the point where I realized that I was harming myself by holding on to so much anger. I don't know if you've ever heard this expression but there is an expression that I've heard before, and they were like, not forgiving is like, drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die. Right? Yeah. So as time went on I realized that all this rage that was justifiably consuming me, was harming me. And I didn't want to walk around feeling like that for the rest of my life because I'm pretty sure I couldn't have without destroying myself. So that was a reason that I wanted to and needed to.
1:54:15 Charity Lee
I tell people all the time, forgiveness is really a very selfish act. You're doing it for you. People are like, oh, forgiveness, it's the epitome of Christianity or whatever, but it is selfish. That's just what I believe. You do it for you because you want the chance of having a life not consumed by anger. And then the way that I was able to do that, the fact that he's my son, and I loved him, love him helps. So there's that to fall back on. I'm very honest about the fact that if somebody else had murdered Ella, I may have walked down a completely different path. I might have just said, I hate them, and run with it. But the fact that it was Paris, it's what made it so devastating but it was, also one of the things that motivated me to take the path I did, because he is my child.
1:55:35 Charity Lee
But what helped me to forgive and let go of the anger is I learned, I educated myself. Paris I did'nt, accept that he's a monster and he's evil. I tried to figure out okay, he obviously isn't a monster and I know he's not evil, but what is he? Who is he? And the more I learned about sociopaths, and narcissist, and the way they think, and how that influences how they act, and just coming to grips with the fact that he is, who he is, as much as I am, who I am and just accepting him. Right? If you are in a relationship you have to understand somebody, accept them for who they are, and then decide if you can be there with them, how they are. To walk into it expecting to change them, or convince them to be some other way, you're just set up for failure. So learning about Paris really helped to be able to forgive.
1:57:19 Charity Lee
But then the last thing about forgiveness that I always tell people, it's not like this one time thing. I didn't wake up one day around seven years ago, or whatever, and be like, oh, that's it, I'm done processing, you're forgiven and it's time to move on. No, I have to forgive Paris almost every day, sometimes, depending on where his head is at. I mean, anniversaries, we started talking about anniversaries. Every anniversary day, I go through this whole process of forgiveness all over again. It all comes back, like, the feelings and what he did. So it's a process, especially if the person that you need to forgive is still in your life. But I don't know anybody that has suffered a trauma, whether it be childhood sexual abuse, or domestic violence, or the murder of a loved one, or even people that have committed violent crimes or criminal acts, and they need to forgive themselves. It's not like a one time thing, it's a process. It's something that you must work at.
1:59:01 Rob Konrad
You wrote that Paris has taught you what love is.
1:59:10 Charity Lee
Yeah. And the dedication in my book that I write, it's dedicated to my three children, and it's dedicated to Paris for showing me, teaching me what love is and to Ella for showing me how love acts and to Phoenix for showing me that love really does conquer all. Yeah and the reason that I say that Paris taught me what love is, is because when I had Paris was the first time that I personally experienced like I mean, I loved my mother very much growing up, still do love my mother very much but like I said, earlier, it always felt conditional on her side.
1:59:10 Charity Lee
And so when I was younger, I experienced it as a pure, powerful love maybe, I can't recall too much. But with Paris, when I saw Paris for the very first time, I call it like the rapture. There was this moment where I saw Paris, and this whole new world opened for me. I have certainly learned a lot through Paris, because of Paris, and in spite of Paris, about that world of love. And I say Ella taught me how love acts, because even in the short time that Ella was here she was she was very much the lover. She used to tell me that her little friends whatever, we needed to adopt them, because their mom wouldn't let them do something and they need a nice mom. She just was always the one who she told my mom one time because I was really upset with my mother and she called my mother that she knew that I was mad at my mother but Ella loved her anyway. She was a lover. And so a lot of times when I try to figure out how to be in the world, I think about how Ella was in the short time she was here. I tell people all the time in my speeches, we should all act more like four year olds.
2:02:38 Charity Lee
I think Phoenix taught me that _____ . When I found out that I was having Phoenix, even though it had been seven, eight years since Ella died, and I had created this foundation and was doing all of these things to help other people and had pulled through myself relatively well I think, there was still a part of me that was living with the dead. Right? There was still a part of me that was not fully engaged in my own life. And when I found out that I was having Phoenix, and then when Phoenix was born, and then 12 hours later, they whisked him off to the intensive care unit because he had this horrible heart problem, he is what it took for me to come back fully present in the moment. I like to tell people that until Phoenix, I lived with one foot in the land of the living and one foot in the land of the dead. I was straddling that grave and there was still a possibility that I could have fallen into it, I guess, at any moment. But Phoenix took that possibility away.
2:04:31 Charity Lee
You know how everybody around the world now is all about mindfulness, living in the present and a lot of people think like if you're going to be mindful, you have to have calm and quiet but I don't think so. Phoenix is not calm and he's not quiet but when I'm with Phoenix is when I experience the most mindfulness I've ever experienced because I'm choosing to stay in that moment with him because I know now after Paris, and Ella, how amazing those moments are, and I also know that you don't know how many of them you're going to get. So my crazy, difficult, opinionated five year old is what keeps me grounded in the present.
2:05:27 Rob Konrad
If people want to reach out to you, bid for help with your organization, or if they're interested in your work, or they want to book you as a speaker, how can they reach out to you?
2:05:37 Charity Lee
Just Google my name. No, you can, we have a website, www.ellafound.org or seriously, they can just google Charity Lee, and it's like all out there. But the website's the best way. We're also on Facebook, I think we're on Twitter, pretty sure we're on Twitter. Yeah, that's it, we don't do Instagram.
2:06:14 Rob Konrad
If they need any help, if they had trauma, if they're on either side of an act of violence they can reach out to you and then you can connect them to people who can help or you can be of assistance to find them.
2:06:36 Charity Lee
What I want people to know is I am welcome to anybody at all reaching out to me. I get a lot of people though, who I don't know and they don't even live anywhere near where I could actually meet with them and they want to know, like, this is a terrible thing that happened to me, how do I deal with it? And the only thing I can really do in situations like that is be like, well, here's what I suggest. Find someone to talk to that you trust or find a good counselor and I can help some helping people do that but I'm not a counselor and I don't offer online counseling. I try to work with people locally but globally just let people into my life, so they can learn about it themselves and take what they like and leave the rest. Maybe that's helpful. __________________ 150 emails a day but everybody is more than welcome to reach out, just don't expect that by sending me an email all your problems are going to be solved.
2:08:12 Charity Lee
And then there's the movie. A lot of people have found that watching the movie is helpful because what I get a lot of is, people will read my story or watch the movie and they'll give me like, I thought I had it bad but damn. And that's what I'll say thanks. The movie can be helpful to people just to help them realize they're not alone. There are people all around the world and are dealing with problems and this is how it can be dealt with.
2:08:58 Charity Lee
For people that want to send me hate mail, you can just tell them don't even bother. Save your breath, go do something positive instead. I've heard it all. You're not going to tell me anything that's going to make me be like, oh my god, nobody said that to me before and he's right, I am a loser.
2:09:20 Charity Lee
But what I can really suggest to people, is just go and be what you want the world to be. Start with yourself. Don't be ashamed of anything that has happened to you or anything you may have done. Show yourself a little self love, a little compassion and then give that back to the world. But if somebody is in crisis, the first thing they need to do is they need to either call 911 if you're in America, or reach out to somebody local, who can immediately help you because I do get people that send me emails, and they're like, I'm suicidal and I'm like, I didn't even see this until now and it's five days ago, we can't help with crisis care. I think that's about it.
2:10:40 Rob Konrad
I want to thank you for this conversation. It's been really, really great and I want to thank you for sharing your emotions and giving people, the essence is that there is hope even if the situation seems hopeless and we all can find hope at the end of the tunnel. I want to thank you for that.
2:11:03 Rob Konrad
There's always two questions that I ask people at the end of each conversation. The first question is, this is about extraordinary people who make a change in this world and who do good in this world and who are inspiring, like yourself? So who would you consider to be an extraordinary person?
2:11:25 Charity Lee
I told you when we talked before, one of the main people that has inspired me when I first started doing all this work publicly, is a man named Soulja Graham and he is a death row exonerate. He inspired me early on to just be a revolutionary, to be confident in my own message even though my message of inclusivity when it comes to how to treat victims and perpetrators is not a widely practiced or accepted one. But he just inspired me and motivated me to just speak my mind as I felt, it needed to be spoken. And his story is fascinating. It encompasses being a death ___ honoree, fighting for civil rights, the Black Power movement back in the day in prison, and he has a fascinating story. So I recommend Soulja Graham.
2:13:11 Rob Konrad
And the last question and I want to close the conversation with that is, what's your message to the world? What's the message closest to your heart that you want to give to everyone who's watching this or to who's listening to this?
2:13:30 Charity Lee
I guess what my message to the world has always been is own your story. It's your voice, use that voice and at the end of the day always make your decisions based on love. Like you just said, mine, I think is a story of hope, inspite of the odds and to just know that as long as you're breathing, there is definitely hope. Tragedy is not the end of the world. In fact, it can be _____ I guess that's my message.
2:14:51 Rob Konrad
Charity, I thank you for the conversation. I really enjoyed it. I will put a link to all of your, to your website and your foundation, with all this video for everyone to watch. So thank you for your time. And I'll talk to you again.
2:15:07 Charity Lee
All right, thanks and thanks for the hook up with Shannon.
2:15:11 Rob Konrad
Thank you. Bye bye.
2:15:12 Charity Lee
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