Recently in the news was a trial of a woman named Barbara Sheehan. She was on trial for the murder of her husband, an ex-police officer. Her life and the lives of her children, when they were younger, was awful. In fact, on the witness stand one of her children referred to their father as a monster–never knowing what he was capable of doing, oftentimes they were afraid for their lives. Her son testified that he had to go away to college for his own safety.
I can relate to the Sheehan family. As many of you know, my father was a similar “monster,” raping, beating, and abusing his family, my parents are both dead as a result and my brother will likely spend the rest of his life in jail for their murders.
Should this woman have been charged with murder? I believe not. Should she have been charged with a gun possession? I believe not. It is impossible for anyone who hasn’t lived this type of life to understand the amount of fear that one holds inside, how abused people go through their day holding their breath so as to not upset the abuser. It is a life of walking on razor-sharp eggshells. It is a life or death situation, daily. No one but a survivor of this life will ever understand.
Maybe to some this sounds like I condone killing another person. That is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that this family lived through Hell, and to put the mother in prison for any length of time is just more punishment on top of the abuse. My family, as a unit, was abused over 25 years, and my brother is in prison for two murders. It’s surprising to many people to hear that I don’t believe my brother should be in jail.
My brother needed help because of his abused past, and no one recognized the signs. The ball was dropped in my brother’s case because, unlike Barbara’s children, my sister and I didn’t stand by my brother. That, I think, is because he killed our mom, too, not just the “monster.”
I applaud Barbara’s children for being there for their mom, for testifying on her behalf, and for painstakingly reliving those abusive moments that will always be a part of them. If my siblings and I had done the same, back in 1988 when my father was shot to death, Mom would probably not have been killed fifteen years later.
I encourage everyone to take the time and leave their comfort zones to read their book “In Bed With The Badge: The Barbara Sheehan Story.” I encourage everyone to support this family and see that abuse leads to an unwanted result for everyone. No one, not even someone abused, wants to take another’s life. Sometimes they have no choice–it is their life or the abusers.
To Barbara, Jennifer, and Raymond, I am sorry for the life you have lived. I am proud of all of you for remaining a close family unit. I give my heartfelt wish that each of you find peace and healing from your past. Please reach out if there is anything that I can do.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty From Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty From Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Fear of Our Father (formerly title Sink or Swim) — Berkley Books, 2013
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame