Monthly Archives: October 2006

The Gainesville Murders and the Execution of Danny Rollins

    Sixteen years ago, I lived in Gainesville, FL.  I was working in a small law firm as a legal secretary, and my boyfriend, now husband, was a medical student at the University of Florida.  One morning, we woke up to hear two college students were found murdered in their apartments, about a 1/2  mile from where we lived.  The next morning, another young woman was found dead, murdered in a brutal and shocking way, within a block of where we had first had an apartment in town.  The next morning, two people were murdered in the apartment complex across the street from where we lived.  It seemed like the killers were coming closer and closer to us.

Gainesville is a small southern town in many respects.  It is a college town, where the population swells dramatically when school is in session, and shrinks as dramatically during school holidays.  It is a place where you can ride your bike, walk at night, and feel pretty safe.  But because it is small and close knit, the murders sent terror into the hearts of residents as bad as, if not worse, as that we experienced post- 9-11.  You would hear reports on the news, and reports from local people that would double-count bodies, and get reports of police showing up in different spots in town, with the speculation that even more bodies would be found.  It was like being under seige, waking up and not knowing how many bodies would turn up the next day, or if it would be you.

We lived in a lower floor apartment with a walk-out set of sliding glass doors.  Easy access.  Immediately, all sorts of alarms, special window locks, broom handles, and any other form of security were being handed out like candy on Halloween.  Matt and I left Gainesville and drove down to his mom’s house in Ft. Lauderdale. School was closed for at least a week, and everyone felt bulnerable, and like they were haunted, but there were no obvious solutions to the problem.  No one knew what would happen next.

We eventually returned to Gainesville.  They thought they caught the guy, and it was a college student who had been evicted from a local complex.  Since our firm did evictions for another largely student complex, I was in fear for years after that anyone we had evicted would lose it and come looking ofr me or my boss at our small firm.  For a long time, we kept the front door to the office locked tight.

About a year and a half later, two more women were murdered in their apartment.  It turned out to be a carpet cleaner, but as soon as this news hit the airwaves, panic washed through the community again.  Matt was out of town, and I ended up spending the weekend at my boss’s house, for safety reasons.  We felt like it was deja vu and the fear returned many fold.  It soon passed as the man was caught and the community was reassured we weren’t facing the same menace as before.

Whenever something of this size trauma hits a community, it changes it and its inhabitants forever.  When I heard about Rollins’ execution, it brought back all these feelings for me, like a ghost of a nightmare, but still touchable, still real.  I can only imagine that people from New Orleans will feel this same sense of fear and forboding if any future hurricane comes even close to their shores, or how the people of NY felt with the recent plane crash on the Upper East Side.

Trauma changes you.  And things can unexpectedly tap those emotions and make you feel vulnerable again.  But we need to go on, take risks of daily life, and try to live fully despite our fears.  I am afraid that the execution of the Gainesville college student murderer won’t really serve to remove those fears, or even begin to make the families of the victims whole.  It did not make me feel any better, or feel like justice was served.  I am simply sad all over again, and weep for our lost innocence.

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The Great Social Inequities

A long time ago now, when I was in college, I had the first experience of getting a bit over my head with credit card bills. After some embarrassment, I fixed the problem and have been credit concious every since. I pay bills on time. I don’t charge anything I cna’t pay for within one month. I put money into savings almost every month. Basic , good fiscal policy.

Later on, I worked as a legal secretary. Part of the practice involved dealing with bill collection, mortgage foreclosure and the like. If you want to see people in financial trouble, this is where to work. People make bad decisions and get themselves behind the eight ball, making it even harder to get back to neutral -break even- not even talking about getting ahead.

After my husband and I finished grad school and started our adult lives, paying back student loans, buying our first house, etc. we rapidly found out there is a level of income in this country that once you hit it, it is almost impossible, if you are the least bit fiscally concious, togo back to just scraping by. All of a sudden, banking fees go away. Stock trades are free or very cheap. I can’t bounce a check even if Iwanted to. As long as I don’t overspend, or waste money, I am in a position where people are giving us free things to earn our business, but these are the same things that people with financial issues very hard.

For example, bounced check fees. If you couldn’t pay the check the first time, the $30 fee per occurrance is even worse than the threat of prosecution, since passing bad checks is indeed a crime. ATM fees. BAD news for everyone, really disproportionately bad for those with little money. Late payment fees. Again, hits those in finacial trouble even more. Late tax fees and penalties that compound and REALLY put people in a hole they can’t get out of.

I found out through these experiences that even smart people can make bad financial mistakes, but the system is also stacked against those on the bottom. If you are in trouble with money, you have to be very conservative and obey the main rules of finance.

  • Don’t spend any money you don’t have
  • Understand the difference between what you want and what you need. For example, if you have to choose, the electric company will cut you some slack, but not paying the rent is a disaster and will leave you homeless. If things are this bad, pay the rent first, then utilities, then transportation then credit. Then you can worry about the rest. No one ever died from eating ramen noodles for a month and giving up venti lattes.
  • It always killed me when people were being evicted from an apartment, but they had cable with all the expensive channels, a huge TV and the nicest things- perhaps this speaks to bad prioritization.
  • It’s better to drive a beat car you can afford than a nice car that you can’t.
  • Give up the expensive monthly drains on income. Expensive cable addons. Even the internet can be expensive, but you can always use it at public libraries and colleges. Are there any monthly expenses you can cut back on? remember, shelter, food, and necessary transportation are first, the rest may be luxuries.

    This morning in the NY Times they were talking about how some banks are now giving away free stock trades for their best customers and the ones with at least $25,000 in deposits. What we really need to do is to encourage people with a whole lot less money to have access to saving a nest egg and investing it so the saving comp0unds and gives people a leg up long term.

  • I don’t know how we can fix this, but it seems to me the fact that people get kicked while their down financially seems undemocratic and unfair. Suggestions people?
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The Waffle Factor

I found the allegations of politicians being “wafflers” or”flip-floppers” interesting in the last election cycle.  Apparently, if you change your mind about anything, at any time, you are being inconsistant, and that’ s supposed to be bad.  It’s bad, because….Why?  Allegedly, it’s because you are trying to have it both ways and being hypocritical.  How about- we’re changing our minds because we have new data, and this makes us reconsider the old opinion?

We now have a president and politicians who are taking “stay the course’ to new heights of insanity.    Would you “stay the course” and run your car off the road and over an embankment, just to be consistent?  No- the road has changed, and if you want to stay alive, you need to adapt to the new situation, not simply insist the situation has not changed.

We have a president and white house staff that are running the train off the tracks, driving the car off the bridge because they won’t make a left turn,  or even land a plane in an emergency because they are running out of fuel- no- that isn’t “staying the course”.  They are in effect saying the following- We would rather crash than reconsider our opinions.  How many kinds of stupid is this??????

I saw a hysterically funny clip of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show (Available at http://www.comedycentral.com)  all about how “Information gets into the brain, and then confuses it”, based on the President saying at a news conference, that the information leaking out of the White House is causing confusion in the minds of the voters right before elections.  Of course, he shouldn’t really worry, since he doesn’t believe that NEW information should change ANY thinking, so why should he assume we are changing our minds about the war?

Because people ARE intelligent and we DO change our minds when we get new information, rather than seeking information, real or manufactured, to meet with our pre-determined opinions and view points.  I am very disappointed in the current state of affiars in this country, especially in regards to the war, mostly because we are being “led” by people who are unwilling to actually think they may have made any errors in judgment, nor revisit past decisions, regardless of new information that becomes available!

The definition of bravery should involve being able to admit mistakes, errors, accidents, etc., accept responsibility for them, and do everything possible to make it right or at least better from that point on.  Our president should know that the first step to fixing a problem requires that you acknowledge a problem exists.  Denying a problem, trying to deflect criticism doesn’t fool any of us- we know there is a disaster taking place, and we also are rapidly getting the impression that we have Larry, Curly and Moe in charge of making the decisions .

I try to teach my children every day to accept responsibility for each and every one of their actions and choices- I wish the President would do the same.  If I can expect this level of thought from my eight year old, it seems reasonable to expect it from my government.

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