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White to Appear on 'Larry King Live' Dec. 28

Linda White, an adjunct faculty member in Sam Houston State University's Department of Psychology and Philosophy, is scheduled to appear on CNN's Larry King Live, Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 8:00 p.m.

Linda White
Linda White

White, her granddaughter Ami, and five others will be featured in a program which focuses on people who have turned negative elements in their lives into positive ones.

"All of the segments in the show that evening, with the exception of one, are about people who have been victims of crime, and who have worked with other crime victims or with offenders," White said.

"There is only one person in the program, Dave Pelzer---the author of the book 'A Child Called "It"', who is not involved in restorative justice," said White. Pelzer is an award-winning author and motivational speaker who was physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic mother as a child.

White's daughter, Cathy, was raped and murdered in Brazoria County in 1986. At that time, Cathy's daughter, Ami, was five years old. Later, Linda and her husband, John, legally adopted Ami.

Linda and her family were devastated. "We were totally crushed by what happened," she said.

She began reading books on loss and grief. She also participated in activities for victim support groups, and even appeared in a video that advocated death penalty eligibility for youths as young as 13.

But Linda wasn't finding the mending that she needed.

She decided to go back to college and become a grief counselor. She enrolled in psychology classes at Sam Houston State and earned her bachelor's degree in 1990, her master's degree in 1994, and her doctorate at Texas A&M in 2001. She took a job teaching classes at Sam Houston State and was offered another job---teaching philosophy and psychology to inmates in local area prisons.

While studying in college, she became familiar with a book by Howard Zehr who wrote about restorative justice versus retributive justice. Restorative justice argues that the needs of the victim, offender and community must be reconciled for real justice to occur, and that it takes an active effort by the offender to make things right. Sometimes this leads to a dialogue between the victim or survivor and the offender.

The more Linda studied criminal justice issues and learned about the human condition, the more she began to question her own feelings about justice.

The idea of restorative justice appealed to her because it addresses harm without doing more harm in the process, and it's non-violent.

"Most of what we do in criminal justice is itself a form of violence, whether justified or not," Linda said. "That was what originally drew me to looking for something else.

"The bitterness and vengefulness that I saw in so many victims…I just didn't want to be part of me," she said. "And as I spent more time in the victims' support group, I realized that was what was fostered there in most respects---not healing, which is what I needed and wanted, but bitterness and revenge."

During this time, she also became familiar with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Victim Offender Mediation/Dialogue Program and trained to be a mediator in their program. However, the director of the program convinced her that before she would be able to handle someone else's mediation, she first needed to do her own.

In 2001, Linda and Ami arranged to meet with Cathy's killer. They learned answers to their questions about Cathy's final moments---and they became activists in supporting non-violent solutions to crime.

Critics question the motives of the inmates who participate in mediation and believe that the majority of the offenders are not being honest with their victims during the sessions.

However, Linda says that mediation forces convicts to confront the personal tragedy they have caused. "They should have to face the victims," she said.

In addition to teaching a class on death and dying, as well as psychology and criminal justice courses at Sam Houston State, Linda is currently chair of the board of the national organization "Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation," whose membership includes homicide survivors who oppose the death penalty.

She and Ami appeared earlier this year on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss their story. The show's producer told them about Sunni Schwartz, also on the show that day, who runs the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project---known also as RSVP---for Sheriff Michael Hennessey of San Francisco County.

"Their premise is violence is learned, therefore it can be unlearned," Linda said. "And that's the way I feel, too."

Linda met Sunni and the two became close friends immediately.

When Sunni was approached by producers for the Larry King Live show about appearing in the upcoming program, along with Linda and Ami, she had suggestions for how the show might be conducted, and others who might be included. Two of the other participants are women who work with her in San Francisco in the RSVP program.

The program was supposed to air live on Dec. 15. However, following news of the Scott Peterson guilty verdict and sentencing that week, the program on overcoming negative issues was pre-empted, so that information about the Peterson case could be broadcast live.

Because the participants had already made arrangements to go to Los Angeles for the program, it was decided that the program would be taped for viewing on Dec. 28.

It was a whirlwind experience, Linda said.

"I gave an exam, picked up my daughter, drove to the airport, we flew to Los Angeles, went to the studio, taped the program, went to a hotel and spent the night, then flew back the next day," she said.

"There was no preparation or rehearsal for the segment," she said. "They put a little makeup on us, put us in front of the camera, and began asking questions," she said.

But the effort it takes to bring attention to her cause is worth the trouble, she said.

"At least ninety percent of offenders come out of prison after they have served time for their crimes," she said. "Studies show that they are either worse for their experience, or better, but not the same as they were when they are sentenced.

"Wouldn't it be better if they all came out better?" she asked. "We should care enough about ourselves and our society to effect a change, and I believe restorative justice is the way to do it."


Media Contact: Julia May
December 22, 2004
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