Forgiving the Rapists? -- Debbie Morris Tells Her Story

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - September 1998

In the book Dead Man Walking, by Sister Helen Prejean, and the movie based on the book, no attention was given to the teenage girl that Robert Willie and his partner kidnapped and raped. Sister Helen never talked with the girl, never inquired about her side of the story.

After many years of silence, the sixteen year old girl from Madisonville, Louisiana, Debbie Morris, has written a detailed account of what happened on the fateful evening when she and her boyfriend were parked outside of town in his car. She describes how she was raped and kidnapped by two men, how she survived her ordeal, and testified at their trial.

As years passed, she got married and thought everything was behind her. The publication of Sr. Prejean's book and the award winning movie, stirred up many old feelings and made her the focus of national attention. Now, in her own book, Forgiving The Dead Man Walking, Debbie Morris lets us look inside the mind of an amazing survivor.

Many survivors talk to themselves during crises. Debbie Morris has lets us hear the self-talk she used to cope and sustain herself during many hours of being repeatedly raped and threatened with death by the two men. They had just finished raping and stabbing to death another teenage girl and told Debbie the gruesome details.

Debbie gives a fascinating account of strategies she used to try to survive after the men kidnapped her and left her boy friend behind. She describes her attitude toward the two rapists, and how she talked back and refused to be intimidated by Robert Willie.

She says, for example, that after a long night of being raped and threatened by the two men, they put her between them in the front seat of her boy friend's car and drove down the interstate highway playing the radio full blast. Debbie had had enough. She reached over turned the volume down. They yelled at her and turned it back up. She turned it down. They turned it back up. After several more times, she shut the radio off. The rapists were driving in the car stolen from her boyfriend. She knew how to turn the radio on and off, but they didn't. She thought to herself "So who cares? What are they going to do? Kill me? They're probably planning to do that anyway."

Through the many hours of intense contact with the rapists what Debbie did and said had an unexpected effect. Toward the end of the second day, they drove back to Madisonville, let her out of the car, and drove away.

A survivor must cope with being a survivor. Debbie was interrogated by many police officers and FBI agents. She had to identify and then testify against Robert Willie and his partner. Then there were the years of waiting while Robert Willie was on death row. A strong Christian, Debbie wrestled with her feelings and did not feel capable of forgiving the men for what they did.

The second half of her book walks us through the process of her struggle to handle her memories, her feelings, and with being publicly identified as the teenager who was kidnapped and raped by Robert Willie. It was Debbie who finally telephoned Sr. Prejean to ask why she had never tried to talk with her to hear her side. This led to them meeting and to Debbie eventually reaching a peaceful resolution of her experience.

Forgiving The Dead Man Walking, by Debbie Morris, is an excellent survivor story. We highly recommend it--especially for anyone wrestling with forgiveness issues.

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