For Part 2, scroll down.
PART 1: Imagine marrying the man of your dreams and one month after your idyllic wedding, you get a knock on the door from the police. They tell you that your new husband has been arrested. All they can say is that it’s for sexual assault. Hard to imagine? This is what happened to Shannon Moroney on the morning of November 8, 2005.
After learning that her husband had raped two women in the basement of the health food store he worked at, Shannon entered a state of shock and was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress. She writes vividly about this experience in her new book Through The Glass, and from the first page I found myself unable to put it down. I sat down with Moroney to discuss her book, her passion for Restorative Justice, and her new life post Jason Staples.
What is so profound about Moroney is her compassion and ability to humanize someone like Jason, who has committed such violent acts of sexual assault. When I started reading the book, the description of Jason and the night that he ‘snapped’, I found myself wrapped up in the heinous nature of his attack. A few days later, as I got further into the story, I was more fascinated with what Moroney saw through her eyes. And what she saw when she first met him, was a good man.
Now here is the part where I may lose you for you a moment. Moroney met Staples in February 2003 while volunteering at Martha’s Table, a not-for-profit restaurant in Kingston, Ontario. On their first date, he revealed that he was on parole, serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. He was splitting his time between a Kingston halfway house and his own apartment. One might wonder how she didn’t just get up from the table right then and there and leave. Of course, wouldn’t you? You might think.
Shannon did stop seeing him after a few friendly meet-ups, but couldn’t stop thinking about him. She even tried dating someone else to try and put the fire out, but she was unable to deny that she wanted to be with him. His circle of friends, his psychologist, and his parole officer felt strongly that he was at no risk to reoffend. By all accounts, he was a reformed man who had paid the price for his crime. And just like anyone entering a new relationship, she wanted to believe the man she was falling for was a good one.
“It’s hard for people to understand and maybe once they read the book they can get to know Jason a little bit, the way that I did. But in lesser context, like in a black and white newspaper, people may say, ‘that woman must have been so naïve, so delusional. She doesn’t deserve any support, she knew what she was getting into’,” she explains.
But, in fact, she felt it was easy to have compassion for him in the beginning. “He was building such a good life and doing so well. And that feeling was unanimous between the work place, corrections and parole department, circle of friends,” she says. However, it wasn’t his current existence that was questionable. Even though his first crime took place eighteen years before, there was also a history that now paints a clearer picture of a disturbed man.
Moroney says that Jason didn’t often talk about his childhood. She knew there wasn’t a white picket fence and that his mother wasn’t a very good one, but other than that, the early story of Jason Staples wasn’t spoken of until after he was incarcerated for the second time.
He was adopted as a young boy, and when he was six years old, his father died and he was left alone with his mother who suffered from bi-polar. Staples later revealed from behind the glass at Kingston penitentiary that his mother would have violent sex with her boyfriend in close proximity to his bedroom with all doors open.
After his mother left to go live in Quebec, Jason, an 18 year old at the time, was sent to live with an older female roommate. They had begun a sexual relationship, and one night, after an altercation, he smashed her head into the bathroom floor and killed her.
“I’m now aware of that one moment in my life that I lost control. I took her life, and I live with this awareness every day. She had two sisters,” he’d told Shannon at the beginning of their relationship.
This particular crime was a mystery among mental health professionals and his lawyers. He wasn’t a sex offender, alcoholic, drug addict; he seemed to just snap one day. They eventually termed it as an isolated incident of adolescent rage resulting in narcissistic injury. It was unpremeditated.
18 years later, after the rape and sexual assault of two women, aged 46 and 26, it was discovered that Jason might have developed a sexual deviance disorder while incarcerated. He told Shannon that he didn’t feel he was always ‘this way’.
“I went to prison as a murderer, but I became someone who was capable of being a sex offender,” Jason has said. In prison he was exposed to extreme amounts of porn, he was raped, and for ten years, he sat. Then he came out. As we talk about the subject of inmates leaving prison to enter back into society, Moroney expresses why she feels so strongly about Restorative Justice.
“I’m not a prison abolitionist. Prison is important. The type of prisons we have, some of them should be much more like hospitals. You can’t punish mental illness out of a person. Punishment is important, but it runs out of its useful lifespan pretty quickly,” she says.
Restorative justice involves face-to-face victim offender encounters. Either the victim meets with their offender or has communication through letter writing. This cannot happen for everyone because not every offender is accountable.
Moroney explains that conventional law has three questions: What law was broke, who did it, what punishment will be served? She says that it’s very focused on the offender, on the law, and not so much on human relationships. During a trial, there is no mention of the actual people offended. For example: Regina vs. Staples. There were many more people were affected by Staples’ crimes. And although Moroney had forgiven him for his past when they first met, she eventually became one of his victims.
I can’t avoid the fact that the magnitude of what one forgives from the past, one risks for the future.
Restorative Justice questions who has been harmed, what do they need and who is responsible to provide these needs. It is aimed at understanding direct victims, yielding a community-centered approach to healing. Moroney says it can exist alongside conventional justice.
I ask her if she thinks Jason and others like him can ever be rehabilitated and what would have to change in order for this to happen. “There is evidence of successful sex offender rehab, but it can be broadened more. There could be more awareness, like porn addiction and how that can develop into sexual offending. Addressing root causes. People are more complex than that. We have to strike a balance. They are human. Part of caring for victims is to prevent and work on rehabilitation. Sometimes they just walk out with 21 dollars into a halfway house.”
She’s very passionate when she tells me about the extraordinary people working in corrections, and how they devote their lives to this, but that the odds are often against them.
“One of my frustrations is that we don’t have services or care or rehabilitative efforts for the inmates. It’s not just for them. It’s also for society as well. We have the right to know that when people are released back into society, we know that we have ‘paid’ for their crimes. Literally and figuratively. Do we not deserve to know that they are being released more capable of living peacefully and safely than less capable? You don’t have to love a sex offender to agree that it would be very good to do something with that time.”
And even though Jason Staples will never see the outside of a prison cell now, what about when he was released back into society the first time? Jason was able to live in the tranquil town on Peterborough with his wife Shannon, seemingly a normal guy, while he battled demons within without anyone ever knowing.
“He was in serious denial when we were together about any sexual tendencies he had,” she tells me. “I certainly didn’t see any of that.
They’re sex life was pretty normal too. Other than the fact that he had problems ejaculating, he was gentle and loving. “I had no idea about the porn,” she sighs.
The pornography becomes somewhat of a feature in this story of a man battling the Blackness. The Blackness is what Jason described as being the guilt and torment in his life. The blackness would show up when things were going well for him just as a reminder that he didn’t deserve any of it.
Shannon felt it was poignant that the crimes had happened so close to their wedding as it was a way of him sabotaging all the good that was taking place. He felt as though his life was too good to be true. You need to prove that you don’t deserve it, the Blackness would tell him.
So, the closer he got to being a father, a good husband and just a normal guy living in society, the more the urges pulsated at the surface. Extreme porn and also acts of voyeurism (videotaping guests going to the bathroom in their house) quietly paralleled his life as a health store worker, illustrator and soon-to-be husband.
I ask Shannon what she thought happened that weekend. Why that night? She shakes her head in total wonderment. “I don’t know. I went out of town every two months for meetings, so it wasn’t the first time I’d been out of the house. He gorged on copious amounts of porn the two days leading up and had also taken a large amount Caffeine and Ephedrine that morning.” Moroney speculates on the affect these pills had on Jason that day. She in no way applies fault to the pills, but just wonders if they had any involvement in the events that day.
Repeatedly throughout our interview, Moroney states that she in no way condones what Jason has done. She was, and still is, disgusted by it. The victims of his behavior have never left her mind.
“These women were so brave, they had such presence of mind. I felt this guttural helplessness towards them. After it happened, I kept thinking ‘let something of mine to have comforted them.’ I would have done anything to have helped them.”
Jason raped both of the women in the basement of the health food store and then bound and gagged them and put them in the back of a van headed home. Once at the home he shared with Shannon, he took them to the basement. Being in the presence of pictures and familiar décor, the women asked Jason about his wife, his life. The women tried desperately to extract from him a shred of humanity. It worked.
He told them he was going to call the police and then kill himself. He left the house to get rope and a ladder. That was when he spoke with Shannon from a payphone near his home.
“We had our nightly chat and I told him that I thought I was pregnant,” she says.
Staples hung up with Shannon and then called the police. He told them what he had done and waited in front of his house for them to arrive. After thirty minutes, they still had not shown up. He made a second phone call with his confession, telling them to come quick. Finally, they arrived, and Jason was locked up. Forever.
Jason later took full responsibility for his crimes, calling himself a “demented coward”. He requested that he be named a dangerous offender. The judge obliged and sentenced him to an indeterminate prison sentence.
As one can imagine, Shannon was an utter wreck for a very long time after the crimes were committed. “A colleague told me to give myself five years. It was such a relief to hear that I had time to heal,” she says.
Sure enough, she now sits before me a new mom of twin girls and married to a man she calls a great guy. I tell her that her positivity is infectious; that some may find her willingness to forgive, unimaginable. She tells me that forgiveness doesn’t just happen once. She has had to forgive over and over because sometimes she experiences periods of ‘unforgiveness’. “I don’t forgive the crimes, or the act; the forgiveness is for what I was put through,” she says.
By looking at her, you would never think she’s been through such an ordeal. With her gentle smile, the warm soft tone her voice takes when she speaks, she may at first seem like a woman surrounded by singing birds and sunshine. But she has been through something that few of us can relate to.
As she stood up at the podium at Ryserson University in front of a crowd of people, she told them about how she fell in love with a boy after forgiving his past, and then was sideswiped by tragedy. Even though it may be hard for people to understand why she dated him after finding out about his first crime, she is still just a woman who put faith in her heart to guide her. The plans, the white picket fence she had grown up surrounded by, and the idyllic love she thought she had, was blown into a million pieces one seemingly average morning.
She now has the guts and the poise to go out and tell her story, holding hope that her fight for Restorative Justice becoming used more often will help the victims of crimes, rather than have them remain victims for the rest of their lives. Her story is one of forgiveness, but it is also about the risk one takes when they forgive.
Shannon was just a girl taking a risk on a guy that she thought was the one. I think we can all relate to that.