Wakulla Volunteer Agnes Furey on Restorative Justice
Forgiving a 'terrible thing'
By TaMaryn Waters
An uneasiness swept over Agnes Furey the first time she met the charming 19-year-old man standing next to her daughter, Patricia Reed.
It was 1996 when they all three stood in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Sarasota.
Reed, an alcoholic, met Leonard Scovens in drug treatment. Furey, a retired nurse who worked with addicts for 30 years, knew instantly this man was still using crack cocaine.
"I have known too many crack addicts," she said. What she didn't know was that
Scovens would go on to steal Reed's valuables — a VCR, a television and videos of Bambi, the Lion King and the Wizard of Oz — so he could score crack.
She didn't know her daughter would give Scovens, by then Reed's lover, another chance by letting him stay with her. And Furey didn't know Scovens would murder her daughter and strangle her grandson.
Scovens strangled Reed to death in March 1998, along with her 6-year-old son Christopher Reed, who was in the tiny Sarasota apartment when Reed's lifeless body fell to the floor. She was 40. In 15 seconds of madness, Scovens ruined Furey's life. Despite the anger and her quest to forgive more than a decade later, she has learned to do what many would consider unthinkable — Furey has befriended her family's murderer.
The 74-year-old has lost all of her children tragically — one to SIDS in 1960, another, who had a heroin addiction, to AIDS in 1996 and the last to murder in 1998. However, she believes in restorative justice, a process that allows victims and offenders to "rebuild relationships" by holding offenders accountable for their actions.
She reached out to Scovens, 36, now sentenced to life in prison for the two murders, in January 2005. She sent a Christmas-themed card on recycled paper with a dove on the cover. "I wish you peace," she wrote to her daughter's murderer.
They have exchanged hundreds of letters and phone conversations since then. She said there's healing laced in every letter, every conversation.
"When you are carrying anger, it's like letting someone live rent-free in your head," Furey says. She now shares how Scovens' crimes have impacted her and her family to other inmates in a volunteer program at the Wakulla Correctional Institutional in Crawfordville.
She's one of about half a dozen volunteers in the state who volunteer in prisons by telling their personal stories.
"My definition of forgiveness is that it's an internal process and it has little to nothing to do with granting forgiveness to someone or responding to someone being sorry ... It took me a while, and I got to a place where I thought, 'OK, it's time. I want to talk.'"
Reed had her demons
Reed grew up in an inner city neighborhood in Jersey City, N.J. She loved music. The Monkees and the Jackson Five were among her favorite heartthrobs.
Vivid memories of live productions of Shakespeare in New York City's Central Park flood Furey's thoughts when she talks about Reed's childhood.
They went to zoos. And they enjoyed the awe of the World's Fair.
The memories also are stained by Reed's alcoholism, evident as early as age 15. She checked into a day-treatment facility as a teenager for about 10 months. Yet the thirst was strong.
Furey said her daughter was often angry when she drank and, at times, acted "embarrassingly stupid."
Reed later had two children — Jason and Alicia, who were 14 and 16 when their mother was murdered — with her ex-husband, David Reed. Christopher wasn't David Reed's biological son, but Furey said her son-in-law loved him like he was his own.
As time passed, Pat Reed couldn't conquer alcohol.
Christopher moved to Tallahassee and lived with Furey for 18 months after Reed checked herself into First Step of Sarasota, a substance-abuse treatment and recovery program run by one of Furey's friends.
She went in "kicking and screaming."
"I was angry at the alcohol," said the retired substance-abuse nurse. "(Pat) needed to be somewhere quickly because everything was falling apart."
'I was really hopeful'
Ten days into the program, Furey already saw a difference.
Furey had called in a favor to get her daughter into the program, and she was thrilled to see Reed responding to treatment.
"I was really hopeful everything was going to be fine," Agnes confessed, running her bright orange nails across a table surface. "Now she had an opportunity to be who she was. Alcohol had her trapped."
Once out of the program and its halfway house, Reed landed a modest office job manning phones. She rented a one-bedroom apartment in a run-down neighborhood that had once been a migrant-worker camp, within walking distance of the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota.
It wasn't ideal, but Reed didn't care. It was a start.
Reed had begun to pursue a sober life when she met Scovens toward the tail end of her treatment.
He was a drifter when they met at First Step. Scovens traveled from Baltimore to Miami with $15.
In his drug-hazed mind, he thought he could "jump on a boat with some Haitians" and get away from the drugs sucking life from his lanky body. His plan crumbled, so he hitchhiked his way up the Sunshine State.
"It was dysfunctional thinking," Scovens said recently, sitting at a large wood desk in the Wakulla Correctional Institute Annex facility in Crawfordville.
His raspy voice grew thick with regret when he talked about Reed.
The whites of his eyes are crimson. Tears streamed down his dark-skinned face.
"Pat and I cared about one another," he said. Then he paused. "You know, she was a good girl. She fought hard to overcome the demons she was dealing with and she believed that if I worked hard I could overcome the demons I was dealing with.
"I needed a friend and she said 'Come on.'"
Furey gets the call
Shortly after Scovens began living in Reed's apartment, he stole from her.
He disappeared and moved back to Baltimore two months later, where he went back to teaching English and social studies at the Catonville Center for Alternative Studies in Baltimore, Md. It wasn't long before crack called him again.
Scovens believed he had a better chance at sobriety in Florida than at home. Reed agreed. Furey was alarmed.
The mother's uneasiness returned, and she pleaded for Reed to reconsider. They argued, and Furey remembers her daughter's rebuttal, "You always said everyone deserves a chance."
Furey often said that, but she also told her children they are not required to provide those chances.
"That was our last conversation," she whispered in the recent interview.
Agnes hadn't heard from Reed in days. She was working a late shift at the Apalachee Center in Tallahassee, when a Tallahassee Police officer delivered the news: her daughter and 6-year-old grandson had been killed.
According to Sarasota police reports, Scovens confessed to the murders. He told officers Reed confronted him about stealing her car, along with other belongings, and she was going to notify the police. Scovens had been to prison for other crimes. Scovens said he strangled Reed because he feared going back to prison.
He didn't want Christopher to reveal his crime to police so he strangled Christopher, too, reports said. Scovens covered his small body with a pile of clothes in a closet.
Furey wanted answers. But Sue Sims, Furey's boss and director of nursing at the Apalachee Center, didn't want Furey to drive to Sarasota alone. It was a "very sad ride," she remembers.
When they arrived at Reed's apartment, police officers met them and Sims said the outline of Reed's body was still on the floor. Scovens' unpacked bags were still at the door.
"It was one of the worst things I had ever seen," Sims said.
Furey went to the morgue. The medical examiner tried to convince Agnes she didn't want to see Reed like this.
"I had to make it real," she said, remembering the ME and another staffer by her side when the sheet was pulled back. "I could barely recognize her but I knew it was her … She was stiff and cold."
She says she didn't utter a word. She felt numb. Empty.
Furey couldn't view Christopher's body. It was too badly decomposed.
Hundreds of letters
At Scovens's sentencing, Furey read a nine-page victim's statement to the court. She was furious, but she didn't want Scovens to get the death penalty.
"There is a part of us that needs to rage. Sometimes we could take a few cues from children. They pound their fists, yell and scream at injustice. God bless my anger and grief fills my eyes with healing tears of rage," Furey said.
"I am afraid to be angry. Rage betrays the need to accept what has happened."
Restorative justice was a foreign concept to Furey at the time, but the murders transformed her into an expert.
She's traveled the country talking to national experts. In 1999, Furey was picked to serve on Florida's team for Balanced and Restorative Justice, a federal program at Florida Atlantic University. Florida was one of 10 states picked for the program, said Dale Landry, the former restorative-justice coordinator for the state-funded Neighborhood Justice Center in Tallahassee in 1998.
He met Furey a year after the murders. Landry, an expert in restorative justice, was instantly impressed by Furey's quest for knowledge and understanding and her ability to share her pain.
"Agnes is a remarkable and unique woman. Agnes's journey through this process is one that she has become a teacher," said Landry, who said Furey has received national training that even he has not had yet. "Agnes is a giant of a woman."
Could he forgive like Furey has?
Landry admits he doesn't know if he's that strong.
Years went by before she sent the dove-decorated Christmas card that sparked their friendship.
She learned about Scovens through his letters: his life as a young boy shuffled between crime-infested ghettos and middle-class neighborhoods; his experiments with drugs; his abuse and his rage.
In a letter to Furey dated Feb. 10, 2005, Scovens wrote,
"In '96, I was so lost ... so lost and wild and confused and needful. Pat saw beyond that fire searing me inside to the soul of a man struggling to survive ... And I saw her too, you have to understand, I saw this bright, courageous, incredibly loving, generous, awakening woman struggling against her own demons. I did love her and was amazed by love for me and acceptance of me."
Scovens was amazed by Reed's ability to see past his addiction and now is amazed Furey can see past his crimes and forgive him. But, she doesn't let him forget.
"When it's their birthday, she lets me know. When it's the anniversary of their deaths, she lets me know," Scovens said, glancing down at the multi-colored string he fingered. "We deal with that. It can be rough but it's nothing compared to what she's gone through."
A new purpose
Scovens' forearms are scarred with self-inflicted cuts, some deeper than others. He's been suicidal several times, including after he was sentenced.
The friendship forged between Scovens and Furey has given him hope, especially since she believes he still has the ability to reach others behind bars.
Furey and Scovens have written a book together called "Wildflowers in the Median" that's scheduled to be published in December or January.
In a volunteer program at the Wakulla prison, Furey also talks to inmates about how Scovens' crimes have affected her. He talks to inmates and tries to teach them the benefits of recognizing how their crimes have affected others.
The teachings have given them both an unexpected purpose.
"Even if they are not coming back," Furey says, "they are making a difference for somebody who is."
Scovens was transferred to faith-based Wakulla prison in November. The state has roughly 5,000 beds in faith and character-building facilities.
Furey wants to meet him in person, but a Florida rule prohibits offenders meeting victims or a victim's family members, said Alex Taylor, chaplain services administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections.
He said the rule is in place so offenders won't have a chance to continue victimizing those affected by crime.
Some national experts say rules like this one should be removed from the books since restorative justice is about meeting a victim's need. They argue that if a victim needs to meet with an inmate, it should be allowed.
"The people who are part of this ought to be a part of the resolution. The more victims are involved, the more they feel justice is done," said Howard Zehr, professor of restorative justice at the Eastern Mennonite University's Graduate Center for Justice and Peacebuilding who also serves on a victim advisory group for the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
He said he grows "increasingly impatient" with states that rest on the need to ensure security as the reason why face-to-face meetings are prohibited.
Zehr said states such as Texas and Pennsylvania have waiting lists of victims wanting to meet with willing offenders that have affected their lives.
Furey is one of a growing force of Floridians hoping to get the rule changed. If she ever gets to meet Scovens in person, she doesn't think she'll offer him a hug or handshake immediately. She envisions sitting down at a table and having a conversation. "I want to look into his eyes like real people," Furey says.
'Not a monster'
Holidays are hard.
All of Furey's children are gone, and most of her family lives outside the city and state.
Sims, a registered nurse at Big Bend Hospice and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare and Furey's dear friend, invites Furey to her home for major holidays. Sims' grandson, Tyler, and Christopher used to play with each other as children when Furey's grandson lived for a year and half in Tallahassee. Sims' voice swells with pride when she talks about her now 18-year-old grandson.
Christopher would be 20 years old if he were alive today. Furey says she can't help but look at teenagers now and wonder what kind of man her grandson would be today.
She often looks at one picture in particular: Reed and Christopher dressed in a W.T. Moore Elementary School T-shirt. They are both smiling wide. They are happy.
Reed would have been 54 years old if she had lived. She would have been a grandmother. Her now adult son, Jason, lives in California and has two children of his own. Reed's daughter, Alicia, lives in Alaska and recently married the man of her dreams.
Sometimes, sadness takes over when Furey says she thinks about the lives Reed and Christopher could have had; but she is no longer angry at Scovens.
"He is not a monster," she said. "He's a man who did a terrible thing."
Furey has given Scovens a life purpose he never imagined. She tells him he can't fix what happened, but he can make a difference where he is, even behind prison walls.